Expected Council Action
In November, Security Council members expect to receive a briefing in consultations on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), which called for a cessation of hostilities between the Shi’a group Hezbollah and Israel. Briefings are expected from Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka and a senior official from the Department of Peace Operations, possibly Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix.
Key Recent Developments
Over five months since the 15 May legislative elections, Lebanon remains without a government, as caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Lebanese President Michel Aoun have so far failed to reach an agreement on the composition of the cabinet.
At the time of writing, Aoun’s presidential term was set to expire on 31 October, and no candidate had received the requisite parliamentary support to replace him. (The Lebanese president is elected by the Parliament and, according to Lebanon’s power-sharing arrangement, must be a Maronite Christian, while the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim and the parliamentary speaker a Shi’a Muslim.)
In a 5 October statement, the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG)—which consists of the Arab League, the EU, the UN, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK and the US—emphasised the importance of electing a new president who “could unite the Lebanese people and work with all regional and international actors to overcome the economic and humanitarian crisis for the greater public good”. It referred to the importance of “an empowered new government…that can implement…direly needed reforms”.
With Lebanon mired in an economic crisis, the government has continued efforts to meet the conditions to finalise a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) worth around $3 billion that was tentatively agreed upon in April. After months of deliberations, the Lebanese Parliament adopted the 2022 state budget on 26 September, and on 18 October, the Parliament approved some revisions to a banking secrecy law. The adoption of the budget and the lifting of banking secrecy are among the IMF’s conditions for releasing the funds. The IMF has made unlocking the funds contingent on other conditions as well, including the implementation of capital controls, external public debt restructuring, and stronger provisions against money laundering. To date, the measures the government has taken have not been sufficient to release the funds.
Following several months of negotiations, Lebanon and Israel reached an agreement on the demarcation of their maritime border in the Mediterranean Sea. The negotiation process concluded on 27 October with the handing over by Israel and Lebanon of separate letters to US Department of State Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein, who mediated the indirect talks between Israel and Lebanon that led to the agreement. UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka received the coordinates of the maritime border from Lebanon and Israel that will be deposited at the UN in New York.
According to the deal, Israel will maintain full control over the Karish gas field, while Lebanon will have control over the Qana gas field. However, Israel will be entitled to a percentage of revenues that French oil company TotalEnergies derives from its exploration of the part of Qana field on the Israeli side of the maritime border, known as Line 23. In a 13 October statement, the Secretary-General welcomed the announcement of the agreement, calling it an “encouraging development [that] can promote increased stability in the region and enhanced prosperity for the Lebanese and Israeli peoples”. On 19 October, Security Council members also issued a press statement in which they “commended the announcements that Lebanon and Israel have agreed to end their dispute over their maritime boundary and delineate it permanently”.
There are currently 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, which has the highest per capita ratio of Syrian refugees in the world. On 12 October, Lebanese President Michel Aoun announced that his country would soon begin sending Syrian refugees back to their country of origin. The Secretary-General’s 11 October report noted that the “assessment of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is that the relevant conditions for safe and sustainable return have not yet been met in the Syrian Arab Republic”. In response to a question at the 12 October press briefing, Spokesperson for Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric recognised Lebanon’s generosity to Syrian refugees since the start of the Syrian conflict but also noted that “[a]ll returns should be voluntary and done in dignity”, with people returning to safe places.
On 19 October, Council members received their semi-annual briefing in consultations on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1559. Adopted in 2004, the resolution called for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon, the disarmament of all militias, and the extension of government control over the whole Lebanese territory. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, briefing the Council, told members that Hezbollah continues to strengthen its capacities and that Israel continues to violate Lebanon’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. In this regard, the Secretary-General’s report expressed concern about Hezbollah’s maintenance of “sizeable and sophisticated military capabilities” outside of the Lebanese government’s control and called on Israel to “withdraw its forces from the northern part of the village of Ghajar and the adjacent area north of the Blue Line and to immediately cease its overflights above Lebanese airspace”. (The Blue Line, or the “Line of Withdrawal”, was identified in 2000 by the UN to confirm the withdrawal of Israel Defence Forces from Lebanese territory in accordance with resolution 425 of 19 March 1978, which called for strict respect for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon.)
Key Issues and Options
The delayed presidential election (and a possible power vacuum) is a potential issue for the Council that could exacerbate political instability and delay much needed reforms.
The substantial amount of weaponry held by Hezbollah and Israel’s violations of Lebanon’s territorial integrity and sovereignty remain ongoing issues for the Council.
One option is for the Council to issue a statement that:
- urges the Lebanese Parliament to elect a new president and calls for the formation of a new government;
- encourages reforms to promote socioeconomic stability;
- underscores the importance of non-refoulement of Syrian refugees currently in Lebanon; and
- emphasises the need for the parties to adhere to resolutions 1559 and 1701.
Another option would be to hold a private meeting with Lebanon and other countries in the region to discuss strategies to address the challenges of hosting refugees from Syria. (A private meeting is a closed formal meeting of the Security Council that allows persons other than Council diplomats and Secretariat officials to participate.)
There is consensus among Council members in support of Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and security. Although more contentious than in 2021, the negotiations on resolution 2650 renewing the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in August showed that consensus still exists among Council members on the mission’s core mandate or, at least, that members are willing to find compromises to retain this consensus even where their views do not necessarily align.
Council members broadly agree on the need for the Lebanese government to carry out reforms to overcome the socioeconomic crisis. A number of members also emphasise the need to ensure that Syrian refugees in Lebanon who choose to return to Syria do so in ways consistent with the principle of non-refoulement.
Marked differences remain among members regarding Hezbollah. Russia sees Hezbollah as a legitimate socio-political force in Lebanon. In contrast, the UK and the US see Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation and a source of instability. During the negotiations on resolution 2650, the United Arab Emirates broke silence to demand the inclusion of stronger language condemning the possession of weapons by “armed groups” outside the state’s control, a request that was accommodated by the penholder, France.
Russia has also suggested that merging the reporting on resolutions 1559 and 1701 would be a more economical use of the Council’s time.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LEBANON
|Security Council Resolution|
|31 August 2022S/RES/2650||This resolution extended the mandate of UNIFIL for another year until 31 August 2023.|
|11 October 2022S/2022/749||This was the most recent Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1559.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|19 October 2022SC/15069||This was a press statement commending the announcement that Lebanon and Israel have agreed to end their dispute over their maritime boundary.|