Expected Council Action
In October, Security Council members are expected to receive their semi-annual briefing in closed 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 is the anticipated briefer.
Key Recent Developments
With opposing political blocks unable to agree on a compromise candidate, Lebanon has been without a president for almost one year—since Michel Aoun’s term ended on 31 October 2022. The presidential vacuum is compounded by the fact that Lebanon’s government remains in caretaker status.
National and international initiatives to overcome the deadlock—such as that of French President Emmanuel Macron’s envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian and that of Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri—have yet to bear fruit. On 19 September, representatives of Egypt, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United States met on the sidelines of the 78th UN General Assembly (UNGA) high-level segment in New York to discuss the presidential impasse. However, the meeting’s outcomes remain unclear, with no official communication from the participants and contradictory media reports.
Almost one and a half years after the April 2022 Staff Level Agreement between Lebanon and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Lebanon does not appear close to satisfying the IMF’s preconditions for releasing around $3 billion. A 15 September press release issued after an IMF team visited Beirut stressed that inaction on “urgently needed reforms weighs heavily on the economy” and that the country “continues to face enormous economic challenges, with a collapsed banking sector, eroding public services, deteriorating infrastructure, worsening poverty and unemployment conditions, and widening inequality”.
The Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1559, which is due on 11 October, is expected to provide updates on several issues, including the maintenance of weapons outside the control of the Lebanese authorities, the continued presence of armed militias in Lebanon, and violations of Lebanese sovereignty and territorial integrity.
On 9 August, a truck belonging to the Shi’a group Hezbollah—which was later found to be transporting ammunition—overturned on a road in the town of Kahaleh near Beirut. The incident was followed by an exchange of fire between Hezbollah and local Christian militias, which resulted in two deaths.
In televised remarks at an 11 September conference, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant showed aerial images of what he described as an airport set up by Iran in southern Lebanon to target Israel.
Since 31 July, at least 30 people have been killed, hundreds injured, and thousands displaced in connection with armed clashes between Palestinian factions following the killing of a Palestinian National Security Forces commander by opposing fighters in the Ein El Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp located near the city of Saida in southern Lebanon. Several ceasefires have been announced and subsequently broken since the start of the hostilities, which have caused large-scale infrastructural damage across the camp, including to facilities of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Following high-level contacts between Palestinian and Lebanese actors, a ceasefire came into effect on 14 September, which at the time of writing was still in place. According to media reports, however, “hundreds of displaced residents see no immediate prospects of return” to the camp, having lost their homes or not trusting that the ceasefire will hold. Speaking at an 11 August UN press briefing, Director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon Dorothee Klaus underscored that the distress experienced by the displaced refugees “needs to be understood in the context of multiple displacements that Palestine refugees have experienced over the past 75 years”.
Israel continues 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 an 11 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”. (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.)
The Secretary-General’s 13 July report on the implementation of resolution 1701 said that the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) had observed two tents installed south of the Blue Line in the area of the Sheb’a Farms. In a 12 July speech, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah reportedly said that Hezbollah had erected a tent “behind the withdrawal line”—that is, the Blue Line—to draw attention to Israel’s occupation of northern Ghajar. While one of the two tents was relocated north of the Blue Line on 1 July, it seems that the second tent remains in place south of the Blue Line.
On 31 August, the Security Council adopted resolution 2695, which extended UNIFIL’s mandate for another year. Thirteen members voted in favour of the resolution while Russia and China abstained. This was the first non-unanimous renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate since 1985. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 31 August.) Resolution 2695 retained language introduced for the first time last year reaffirming that, pursuant to the Agreement on the Status of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (SOFA), UNIFIL does not require prior authorisation to undertake its tasks and that it is authorised to conduct its operations independently. However, in an apparent compromise, this year the phrase “while continuing to coordinate with the Government of Lebanon, as per the SOFA” was added in response to the demands of the Lebanese government and Hezbollah, championed in the Council by China and Russia. These members had opposed language on UNIFIL’s not needing prior authorisation to undertake its tasks, demanding instead language requiring UNIFIL to coordinate with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). They similarly sought the deletion of language on UNIFIL’s “announced and unannounced patrols”, which was, however, retained.
Upon adoption, the representative of Lebanon regretted that “the text did not fully reflect all Lebanese concerns”. However, at a 6 September meeting with the UNIFIL Force Commander, Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati affirmed the government’s commitment to the Council’s decision, adding that the “government is ready to cooperate with UNIFIL”.
Anti-refugee sentiment remains a source of concern in Lebanon, which hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world. Speaking at the UNGA high-level segment on 20 September, Mikati said that, “twelve years into the Syrian crisis, Lebanon is still bearing the burden of successive waves of displacement with far-reaching economic and social repercussions on all aspects of life, thus threatening Lebanon’s very existence”, adding that the international community’s response remains inadequate. On 22 September, LAF Commander Joseph Aoun reportedly said that the “immigration of Syrians represents an existential threat to Lebanon” following the arrest in one week of around 1,000 people who attempted to cross into Lebanon from Syria.
Over three years since the 4 August 2020 Beirut port explosion, the inquiry into responsibility for the blast remains stalled.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a 5 September statement, a coalition of Lebanese and international civil society organisations—including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch—urged the Lebanese authorities immediately to scrap two recent bills that “would explicitly criminalize same-sex relations between consenting adults and punish anyone who ‘promotes homosexuality’ with up to three years’ in prison”. The statement said that the introduction of the two bills follows “a series of hostile incidents over the past year and an unlawful ministerial ban on events around homosexuality”.
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. If the presidential appointment process continues to stall, the Council may consider issuing a statement urging the swift election of a president.
The difficult negotiations and the lack of unanimity on UNIFIL’s mandate renewal reflect the worsening dynamics within the Security Council.
While Council members are generally supportive of the need for UNIFIL to operate effectively in its area of operations, some members’ views diverge on how the mission’s freedom of movement should be exercised. Most members believe that coordination between UNIFIL and the LAF, while important, is not, and should not be, a precondition for UNIFIL to carry out its mandated functions. During the negotiations, Russia and China, echoing the position of Lebanon and Hezbollah, maintained the opposite, even though in 2022 these members voted in favour of resolution 2650, which did not contain language subordinating UNIFIL’s freedom of movement to coordination with the LAF. While most members were apparently able to accept adding compromise language acknowledging the existing coordination between UNIFIL and the LAF, it seems that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was the strongest opponent of any such compromise, even submitting an amendment (later withdrawn) to revert to the language used in resolution 2650.
Members’ positions differ regarding Hezbollah. 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, oppose the Shi’a group and have listed it in its entirety as a terrorist organisation. Upon adoption of resolution 2695, the UAE criticised “the hesitation to name Hizbullah and its group”—a reference to the Lebanese organisation Green Without Borders (GWB)—in the resolution, adding that “[n]o amount of accommodation will change the fact that the pursuit of progress in Lebanon through partnership with Hizbullah has yielded only disappointment and misery”. On the other hand, Russia sees Hezbollah as a legitimate socio-political force in Lebanon. (Lebanon says that GWB is an environmental protection organisation. Israel maintains that GWB is a “fictitious organization” acting as a front for Hezbollah.)
France is the penholder on Lebanon.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LEBANON
|Security Council Resolutions|
|31 August 2023S/RES/2695||This resolution extended the mandate of UNIFIL for another year until 31 August 2024. Thirteen members voted in favour of the resolution, Russia and China abstained.|
|11 August 2006S/RES/1701||This resolution expanded UNIFIL by 15,000 troops and expanded its mandate.|
|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.|