August 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 July 2023
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Expected Council Action

In August, the Security Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) ahead of its 31 August expiry. Prior to that, Council members will hold closed consultations on UNIFIL. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix is the anticipated briefer.

Key Recent Developments

On 20 July, Council members received a briefing in consultations on the Secretary-General’s 13 July report on the implementation of resolution 1701, which in 2006 called for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. The Secretary-General’s report, which covers the period from 21 February to 20 June, documented numerous violations of resolution 1701 and said that UNIFIL continued to record the presence of unauthorised weapons in its area of operations, including at a firing range in which it observed flags “with what appear to be Hizbullah symbols”. In the report, the Secretary-General condemned “the repeated self-acknowledged maintenance” of unauthorised weapons by Hezbollah “and other non-State armed groups” while noting that Israel’s overflights in Lebanese airspace “remain of concern” and constitute violations of resolution 1701 and of Lebanese sovereignty.

The recent uptick in tension across the Blue Line was a key focus of the 20 July briefing in consultations and is likely to remain a focus of Council members’ attention ahead of the negotiations on UNIFIL’s mandate renewal. The Blue Line is a withdrawal line set by the UN in 2000 to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon. While not representing an international border, it acts in practice as a boundary between Lebanon and Israel in the absence of an agreed-upon border between the two states. Any unauthorised crossing of the Blue Line—only about half of which is visibly marked on the ground by blue barrels installed by the UN with the prior mutual agreement of Lebanon and Israel—constitutes a violation of resolution 1701.

The Secretary-General’s report described several incidents of weapons-pointing between the IDF and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), crossings of the Blue Line and stone-throwing in connection with IDF construction works near the line. The IDF continued to occupy the northern portion of the village of Ghajar, which straddles the Blue Line, and an adjacent area north of the Blue Line in violation of resolution 1701. In a 13 July letter to the Security Council, Lebanon said that Israel had “surrounded the town with a metal fence, a concrete wall and barbed wire, and installed cameras” and called on the Security Council and the Secretary-General to “condemn this flagrant violation of Lebanese sovereignty”.

The Secretary-General’s report also says that UNIFIL observed two tents recently installed south of the Blue Line in the area of the Sheb’a Farms, noting that the tents, “with individuals crossing from north of the Blue Line to gain access to the structure, constitute a clear violation of resolution 1701”. One of the two tents was apparently relocated north of the Blue Line on 1 July. In a 12 July speech, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah reportedly said that his party had erected a tent “behind the withdrawal line” in the Sheb’a Farms to draw national and international attention to Israel’s occupation of northern Ghajar. (The Sheb’a Farms is an area of farmlands disputed between Syria and Lebanon and currently occupied by Israel. While a provisional definition of the Sheb’a Farms area is contained in the October 2007 Secretary-General’s report on resolution 1701, its exact boundaries are yet to be agreed.)

The importance of UNIFIL freedom of movement and access to key sites in its area of operations were also apparently among the issues raised during the 20 July consultations. The Secretary-General’s report said that, although UNIFIL’s freedom of movement “was respected in most cases, the mission did encounter several restrictions”, including an incident during which a peacekeeper was hit on the head during a patrol and “masked individuals” damaged a patrol vehicle with an axe.

Despite “repeated requests” to the LAF, UNIFIL has yet to gain access to several locations of interest; the Secretary-General stressed in particular that the “continued lack of support” to access four unauthorised firing ranges is “unacceptable”. The report describes 18 containers and six watchtowers north of the Blue Line, with 12 of these sites displaying “Green without Borders” signs, noting that on several occasions the mission experienced restrictions to its freedom of movement in proximity to these sites. Lebanon says that Green without Borders is an environmental protection organisation. According to Israel, these structures belong to Hezbollah.

In other developments, the crisis of Lebanese political institutions continues to be a source of concern. Lebanon has been without a president since Michel Aoun’s term ended on 31 October 2022, with opposing political blocks unable to agree on a compromise candidate. The presidential vacuum is compounded by the fact that Lebanon’s government remains in caretaker status.

At the last presidential election session on 14 June, neither of the two candidates—Jihad Azour and Suleiman Frangieh—received the required votes to be elected in the first round of voting, during which a candidate needs a two-thirds majority (86 votes) of the elected parliamentarians to win. While only a simple majority is needed in subsequent rounds, a quorum of 86 members of parliament is also necessary for a valid ballot. On 14 June, parliamentarians from Hezbollah and the Amal Movement reportedly withdrew after the first session, preventing a second round from taking place owing to a lack of quorum.

According to a joint statement issued after a 17 July meeting in Doha, representatives of Egypt, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the US discussed “options with respect to implementing measures against those who are blocking progress” on the election of a president.

Over one year since the April 2022 Staff Level Agreement between Lebanon and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), several actions set out in the agreement as a precondition for the IMF to support Lebanon with around $3 billion remain outstanding. In a 29 June report, the IMF said that the economy had contracted by about 40 percent since the start of the economic crisis in 2019, inflation had skyrocketed, and the central bank had lost two-thirds of its foreign exchange reserves. While recognising that in 2022 the Lebanese economy showed “some signs” of stabilisation, the IMF stressed that it “remains severely depressed”.

Almost three years since the 4 August 2020 Beirut port explosion, the inquiry into responsibility for the blast remains stalled.

Women, Peace and Security

A 22 June UN Women update on the impact of the Lebanese financial crisis on women’s economic participation in the country said that the crisis “is a dramatic setback to the already low women’s economic participation in Lebanon, as it forced Lebanese and Palestinian women out of the workforce and drove Syrian women into low-paying jobs and often exploitative work conditions”. The update called for mobilising resources for investments by combating tax avoidance and tax evasion and using gender-responsive and program-based budgeting to reallocate public spending. It argued that the economic crisis provided an opportunity for building a more equal and equitable society through, among other things, “implementing strategic plans to recover and retain women’s jobs and providing opportunities for decent work while addressing women’s increased care responsibilities”.

Key Issues and Options

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. 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.

In August, UNIFIL’s mandate renewal will be the pivotal issue for Council members. Protecting the mandate’s integrity and providing the mission with the necessary tools to carry out its operations remain key priorities for the Council. One option is to renew UNIFIL’s mandate for an additional year without substantive changes to the mission’s mandate and configuration.

Council Dynamics

There is broad consensus among Council members in support of Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security. However, differences remain. For instance, some members distinguish 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. Russia sees Hezbollah as a legitimate sociopolitical force.

While Council members have generally been supportive of UNIFIL, the negotiations for resolution 2650—which in August 2022 extended UNIFIL’s mandate until 31 August—proved difficult. Resolution 2650 extended the provision requesting UNIFIL to provide non-lethal material and logistical support to the LAF that was originally introduced in 2021 because of concerns about the impact of Lebanon’s socioeconomic crisis on the LAF’s capacity to carry out its functions in UNIFIL’s area of operations. While last year many Council members supported the re-authorisation of the temporary and special measures for one year, China and Russia opposed this, stressing that in 2021 they had assented to the measures on a temporary basis only. In an apparent compromise, the penholder (France) retained the language re-authorising the measures but reducing the period to six months “and no longer than 28 February 2023”.

During last year’s negotiations, some members, including the United Arab Emirates and the UK, demanded that stronger language condemning the presence of weapons outside Lebanon’s control be included in the resolution and, in the UK’s case, explicitly mentioning Hezbollah. While an explicit mention of the Shi’a group was ultimately not included, stronger language condemning the possession of weapons by “armed groups” features in resolution 2650.

The resolution also introduced language that says that, pursuant to the Agreement on the Status of the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (SOFA), “UNIFIL is authorized to conduct its operation independently”. Although some members expressed concern that this language might go beyond what the SOFA established, or that it needed to be further clarified, it was eventually retained. This language, however, was not well received by some Lebanese actors. For instance, the Lebanese Foreign Affairs Ministry said that the resolution included “wording that does not conform to the framework agreement Lebanon has signed with the UN”. (For more, see the Lebanon brief in our October 2022 Monthly Forecast.)

While similar issues, and associated dynamics, could re-emerge this year, it is likely that Council members will also consider language urging the Lebanese Parliament to elect a president and calling for the formation of a new government. Some members might also suggest language on women, peace and security (WPS), like former co-chairs of the Informal Experts Group on WPS Ireland and Mexico did last year. At the same time, other members might try to circumscribe or even block these attempts, having in past negotiations been wary of what they argued was overly prescriptive text regarding Lebanon’s internal political matters.

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Security Council Resolutions
31 August 2022S/RES/2650 This resolution extended the mandate of UNIFIL for another year until 31 August 2023.
11 August 2006S/RES/1701 This resolution expanded UNIFIL by 15,000 troops and expanded its mandate.
Secretary-General’s Reports
13 July 2023S/2023/522 This was the most recent Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701.

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