Expected Council Action
In May, Council members expect to receive a briefing in consultations on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1559. Adopted in 2004, resolution 1559 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 is expected to brief.
Key Recent Developments
On 6 April, over 30 rockets were fired from southern Lebanon towards Israel in response to raids by the Israeli police on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site in Jerusalem’s Old City. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 5 April.) This was the highest number of rockets fired from southern Lebanon towards Israel since 2006. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) blamed the launches on the Palestinian group Hamas and, in response, carried out airstrikes on what it identified as Hamas targets in southern Lebanon.
Noting that “[b]oth sides have said they do not want a war”, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in a 7 April statement urged all parties to cease all actions across the Blue Line—a border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel—stressing that the previous day’s actions were dangerous and risked a serious escalation. Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, said that Lebanon rejects the use of its territory to carry out destabilising operations. At the same time, Lebanon also condemned Israel’s airstrikes as “an act of aggression, a flagrant violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty, a threat to the stability that southern Lebanon enjoyed, a blatant violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 and a threat to international peace and security”. During the same flare-up, which later subsided, rockets were also fired towards Israel from the Gaza Strip and Syria, prompting IDF response fire.
On 26 April, Foreign Minister of Iran Hossein Amir-Abdollahian travelled to Lebanon. After holding meetings with Lebanese authorities in Beirut, he travelled to southern Lebanon. During a visit to a viewpoint overlooking Israel in the village of Maroun El Ras, near the Blue Line, he reportedly said that recent activities against Israel by Iran and its allies will lead to Israel’s “isolation and destruction”.
Almost one year since the 15 May 2022 legislative elections, Lebanon’s government remains in caretaker status, while the political impasse continues over the election of Lebanon’s next president—who, according to Lebanon’s power-sharing set-up, must be a Maronite Christian. Lebanon has been without a president since President Michel Aoun’s term expired on 31 October 2022. None of the major Lebanese parties and blocs have the numbers independently to elect a candidate and, at press time, it remains unclear whether they will be able to agree on a compromise candidate.
Amid concerns that sufficient funding for the municipal elections had not been secured, the Lebanese parliament voted on 18 April to extend the term of local government officials until 31 May 2024, paving the way to a postponement of the elections for up to a year. Municipal elections were originally supposed to take place in May 2022, but were initially postponed to May 2023 to avoid their coinciding with the May 2022 legislative elections. A new date for the municipal elections is yet to be announced. In a 19 April post on Twitter, Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka said that it was “vital that Lebanon’s leaders put aside partisan and political differences to deliver the municipal elections in a timely manner”. While enough parliamentarians to secure the needed quorum attended the vote on the elections’ postponement, several others boycotted it as disagreement persists over the capacity of parliament to act as a legislative assembly, or merely as an electoral body, during the period of presidential vacancy.
In March, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission visited Beirut. In a statement, the IMF staff who carried out the visit said that Lebanon continues to face the consequences of a prolonged socioeconomic crisis and stressed that there has been “limited progress” in implementing the reforms set out in the April 2022 Staff Level Agreement as a precondition for the IMF to support Lebanon with around $3 billion. The statement said that “Lebanon is at a dangerous crossroads” and restated the reforms the IMF requires Lebanon to implement. These include adopting a medium-term fiscal strategy to “restore debt sustainability and create space for increasing social and development spending” and a thorough reform of the banking sector.
Anti-refugee rhetoric and deportations remain a source of concern in Lebanon, which hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world. On 13 April, the BBC reported Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi as saying that Syrian refugees in Lebanon are “draining the state’s resources, disturbing social security, and competing with the Lebanese for their livelihood”. During two weeks in April, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) deported over 50 Syrian refugees to Syria, AFP reported. According to UNHCR, 58 percent of Syrian refugee families in Lebanon live in inadequate and unsafe shelters, and 67 percent are moderately or severely food insecure.
There continues to be no substantial progress in the inquiry into responsibility for the 4 August 2020 Beirut port explosion. In a 5 April statement, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Margaret L. Satterthwaite condemned “the undue delays that have prevented justice for those affected by the blast”. She said that Tarek Bitar, the Lebanese judge currently leading the investigation, has faced increasing obstacles and threats while carrying out his work, including “credible death threats”. Satterthwaite urged the Lebanese authorities to ensure that these threats are investigated and that Bitar, his colleagues, and his family are adequately protected.
A 20 April joint statement by several civil society organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, denounced as a violation of freedom of expression the 3 March decision by the Beirut Bar Association to amend its code of ethics to stipulate that “lawyers will only be allowed to participate in a conference or legal seminar, or provide an interview or information to a media outlet, social media outlet, website, or group after soliciting and receiving the permission of the Bar Association President to do so”. The statement says that this amendment “egregiously curtails legal defense work, particularly impact, strategic, and rights litigation which require public engagement, campaigning, and advocacy”.
Key Issues and Options
The peace and security situation in southern Lebanon remains in precarious balance. The substantial amount of weaponry held by Hezbollah and other non-state actors in Lebanon, as well as Israel’s violations of Lebanon’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, are ongoing issues. Key aspects of resolutions 1559 and 1701, which in 2006 called for a cessation of hostilities between the Shi’a group Hezbollah and Israel, remain unimplemented.
Analysts attributed the tense calm after the April exchange of fire across the Blue Line to the fact that none of the actors involved seemingly wanted a wider escalation. Nevertheless, while the Palestinian question remains unsolved, and the Middle East peace process is perpetually stalled, outbursts of this type are likely to happen again. Against the fragile backdrop of the peace and security situation in southern Lebanon, serious incidents across the Blue Line could trigger a chain reaction leading to a violent escalation with severe consequences for the whole region.
The swift election of a president, the formation of a government, and the implementation of reforms aimed at addressing the ongoing socioeconomic instability are further issues.
Council members may consider issuing a presidential statement stressing the importance of the effective implementation of resolutions 1559 and 1701, urging the Lebanese parliament to elect a president and calling for the formation of a new government. The statement could also underscore the importance of reforms to promote socioeconomic stability and of respecting the principle of non-refoulement.
There is broad consensus among Council members in support of Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security. Differences over Hezbollah remain among Council members. Some draw a distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military wings and have designated only its military wing as a terrorist organisation. Other members, including the UK and the US, have listed the Shi’a group in its entirety as a terrorist organisation. In contrast, Russia sees Hezbollah as a legitimate sociopolitical force.
France is the penholder on Lebanon.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LEBANON
|Security Council Resolution|
|2 September 2004S/RES/1559||This resolution urged withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, extension of the Lebanese government’s control over all Lebanese territory and free and fair presidential elections.|
|17 April 2023S/2023/280||This was the most recent Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1559.|