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. Adopted in 2006, resolution 1701 called for a cessation of hostilities between the Shi’a group Hezbollah and Israel. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka and Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix are the anticipated briefers. The Secretary-General’s report, which is due on 15 November, will cover the period from 21 June to 20 October.
Key Recent Developments
October has witnessed a major escalation of violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip, raising concerns about spillover effects on Lebanon and the wider region. Following the 7 October large-scale attack against Israel led by Hamas (the Palestinian armed group and de facto authority in Gaza), the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have carried out massive airstrikes on the Gaza Strip and on 27 October announced that they were “expanding ground operations” in Gaza.
According to figures provided by Israeli authorities cited by OCHA, as at 30 October, Hamas-led attacks have resulted in the killing of approximately 1,400 Israeli and foreign nationals and the wounding of more than 5,400 others. Over 230 hostages are reported to have been taken into the Gaza Strip. Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicate that more than 8,300 Palestinians have been killed and over 21,000 wounded in connection with the airstrikes. Entire neighbourhoods have been destroyed, and as at 29 October, approximately 1,950 people “have been reported missing and may be trapped or dead under the rubble”. On 9 October, the Israeli authorities ordered “a full siege” of the Gaza Strip, stopping the provision of power, food, gas, and water. Only a small fraction of the humanitarian aid needed has been allowed into Gaza via the Rafah crossing, which connects Gaza with Egypt. (For more information, see our What’s in Blue stories of 7 October, 12 October, 23 October, and 29 October.)
The escalation in Israel and Gaza has raised serious concerns that the violence will expand to southern Lebanon, where the security situation has deteriorated markedly, with regular exchanges of fire across the Blue Line. (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 border between the two states.)
In his briefing during the 24 October quarterly open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland said that since 8 October, “Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have launched rockets and anti-tank missiles toward Israel, while [the] IDF [have] responded with artillery fire and air strikes”. He also reported several attempts by “Palestinian militants from Lebanon” to infiltrate into Israel, the most significant of which took place on 9 October.
The exchanges of fire—the most intense since the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah—have resulted in casualties among both combatants and civilians, including two journalists, on both sides of the Blue Line. Approximately 40 people have been killed in Lebanon, mostly combatants, while four people have been killed in Israel, including a civilian, according to data from AFP cited in Lebanese media on 24 October.
In a 24 October statement, UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Aroldo Lázaro Sáenz said that, since the start of the escalation, UNIFIL peacekeepers “have remained in their positions performing their tasks under Security Council Resolution 1701 and subsequent resolutions”, including by carrying out patrols and actively engaging with authorities on both sides of the Blue Line “to de-escalate tensions and avoid misunderstandings”. On 15 October, a rocket hit the UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura without resulting in casualties, but on 28 October, two peacekeepers were injured due to shelling that affected UNIFIL positions.
Since the escalation, Israeli authorities have announced plans to evacuate residents from 42 communities in northern Israel to state-funded temporary accommodation. On 27 October, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that the increase in cross-border incidents has resulted in the internal displacement of over 28,900 people in Lebanon.
Against the backdrop of escalating tensions along the Blue Line, Wronecka has held a series of meetings with key Lebanese and international interlocutors, including representatives of Lebanese institutions and political and spiritual leaders, as well as the ambassadors to Lebanon of the five permanent members of the Security Council. During these meetings, she stressed the need to restore calm along the Blue Line, abiding by resolution 1701 and shielding Lebanon from conflict at a time when the country is already facing a protracted political and socioeconomic crisis. Wronecka may reiterate similar messages during the consultations on the implementation of resolution 1701 in November.
The recent exchanges of fire across the Blue Line and the risk of the conflict expanding to southern Lebanon were a focus of the 17 October briefing in consultations on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1559. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo briefed. It seems that during the meeting, Council members expressed support for UNIFIL’s engagement with the parties to de-escalate the crisis.
Following the 7 October attacks, the US deployed two aircraft carriers to the eastern Mediterranean and increased fighter aircraft presence in the region. Washington said that these “moves are not to deter Hamas, but any country or group that may think of taking advantage of the instability and confusion”, an apparent reference to Iran and Hezbollah. This move has been criticised by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who reportedly accused the US of increasing tensions through its military deployment. In a 27 October interview, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that his country does not want the conflict to spread and that it provides “only political” support for Hamas. He added, however, that his impression from recent meetings with “the leaders of the resistance in Lebanon” and Palestinian groups is that they “have their finger on the trigger”, a statement which has been interpreted as meaning that Hezbollah may escalate its involvement if Israel crosses its red lines. France and the UK have also deployed warships in the eastern Mediterranean.
Lebanon has been without a president for over a year, 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.
One and a half years since 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. These preconditions include passing a capital control law, among other measures.
Human Rights-Related Developments
Over three years since the 4 August 2020 Beirut port explosion, the national inquiry into responsibility for the blast remains stalled. In August, over 300 Lebanese and international civil society groups, as well as survivors and victims’ families, appealed to the Human Rights Council (HRC) to urgently establish an international fact-finding mission to investigate the causes of the blast and identify those responsible. In his address at the opening of the September session of the HRC, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said that, given that “numerous concerns have been raised about interference into the investigation” against a backdrop of “weak governance” and socioeconomic crisis, it may “be time to consider an international fact-finding mission to look into human rights violations related” to the explosion.
Key Issues and Options
The continuing exchanges of fire across the Blue Line and the risk of the expansion of the conflict in Gaza and Israel to Lebanon and the wider region are major issues of concern for Council members. Open war in southern Lebanon would have potentially catastrophic effects on the country, where the inability of politicians to elect a president is normalising the paralysis of key Lebanese institutions. This, in turn, decreases the chances of addressing Lebanon’s ongoing socioeconomic crisis.
In the short term, Council members may consider issuing a statement urging all relevant parties on both sides of the Blue Line to exercise maximum restraint and to adhere to resolution 1701. The statement could also stress that civilians, including UN personnel and journalists, as well as civilian structures, must never be targeted. The statement could echo Lázaro’s 24 October message urging “all parties to cease fire to prevent further harm”.
In a recent update on Lebanon, the International Crisis Group argued that “the only reliable way” of stopping the conflict between Israel and Hamas from triggering a wider regional confrontation would be to step up mediation efforts to achieve a ceasefire in Gaza and to secure the release of the “hostages and prisoners held by Hamas”.
While the Palestinian question remains unresolved, the risk of a regional conflagration connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and involving Lebanon is likely to persist even after the current escalation in Israel and Gaza. As Council members struggle to overcome deep divides over how to address the current escalation, the overarching issue for the Council on that front remains determining how it can better support the resumption of a political process between Israelis and Palestinians in order to move towards a resolution of the conflict and achieve a two-state solution.
There is broad consensus among Council members in support of Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security. 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. On the other hand, Russia sees Hezbollah as a legitimate sociopolitical force in Lebanon.
Regarding the current escalation in Gaza and Israel, members agree that there is a serious risk of regional spillover, that this risk is at its highest in southern Lebanon, and that it should be avoided. Three of the four draft Security Council resolutions in October on the crisis in Gaza and Israel contained references to the risk of regional escalation. However, these draft texts failed to be adopted because of sharp divisions among members on other important aspects of the current escalation. (For more, see our What’s in Blue stories of 16 October and 25 October.)
France is the penholder on Lebanon.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LEBANON
|Security Council Resolutions|
|11 August 2006S/RES/1701||This resolution called for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah.|
|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.|