May 2024 Monthly Forecast



Expected Council Action

In May, Council members expect to receive their semi-annual 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

Following the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas on 7 October 2023, near-daily exchanges of fire across the Blue Line between Israel and Hezbollah and other armed groups in Lebanon continue to give rise to serious concerns about a major escalation of violence in southern Lebanon. (For background on the war in Gaza, see the “The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question” brief in our April Monthly Forecast. 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.)

The intensification and the geographical reach of the strikes and statements by Israeli and Hezbollah officials raise the prospect that brinkmanship may give way to open conflict. Briefing at the 18 April Security Council open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, Secretary-General António Guterres called for maximum restraint, noting that the exchanges of fire across the Blue Line “could take on a momentum of their own” and “[s]trikes deep into the territories of Lebanon and Israel could ignite an even more serious confrontation”.

The exchanges of fire have resulted in casualties among both combatants and civilians on both sides of the Blue Line. As at 18 April, 370 people have been killed in Lebanon since the escalation, including at least 70 civilians, while 18 people have been killed in Israel, including eight civilians, according to data cited by the Agence France Presse wire service. Tens of thousands of people have been internally displaced in southern Lebanon and northern Israel, according to the latest Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701, which was adopted in 2006 and called for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. The report, which was issued on 8 March and covers the period from 21 October 2023 to 20 February, also said that these exchanges had “created new areas of unexploded ordnance contamination”, posing a threat to civilians on both sides of the Blue Line and to UN and humanitarian personnel.

Against this backdrop, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has continued to work to implement its mandate, including through vehicular and counter-rocket-launching patrols in its area of operations. At the time of writing, no fatalities among UNIFIL peacekeepers have been reported since the start of the escalation. Some peacekeepers have been wounded, however, and several of the mission’s positions have been hit. On 30 March, three military observers of the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) serving in the Observer Group Lebanon and a language assistant were injured during a patrol along the Blue Line as a result of an explosion. While at the time of writing a UNIFIL investigation into the incident was ongoing, media reports citing declarations by a Lebanese official have attributed the incident to a landmine. The Secretary-General’s report on resolution 1701 said that “[o]n several occasions, individuals carried out attacks against Israel from the vicinity of UNIFIL positions, drawing return fire by the Israel Defense Forces” (IDF). In response, UNIFIL protested that the actions endangered peacekeepers and UNIFIL premises, and initiated patrols around its positions “to prevent hostile activity”. The Secretary-General’s report also noted three incidents in which “UNIFIL positions were directly hit, including by white phosphorous ammunition”.

The Secretary-General’s report said that UNIFIL facilitated numerous civilian and humanitarian activities in areas near the Blue Line, but “[f]oot patrols, market walks, temporary checkpoints and air operations remained suspended, except for a limited resumption of foot patrols in areas sufficiently distant from the Blue Line”. While UNIFIL liaison and coordination mechanisms continue to be used, it seems that no meeting of the tripartite mechanism—which consists of representatives of UNIFIL, the IDF and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF)—has taken place since September 2023.

Messaging on the exchanges of fire across the Blue Line from senior UN officials in Lebanon has focused on the importance of de-escalation and the need for the parties to recommit to a cessation of hostilities under the framework of resolution 1701. Key messages have also included the importance of a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution to the conflict between Lebanon and Israel through a political process, and of preserving unity among Security Council members behind “efforts to maintain Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and political stability”.

In his latest report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559, which covers the period from 20 September 2023 to 22 March, the Secretary-General observed that the maintenance and use by Hezbollah of military capabilities “remains a matter of grave concern”, adding that the widespread presence of weapons outside of the state’s control and “the activity of several armed Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias continue to undermine security and stability in Lebanon”. He urged the Lebanese government and the LAF to “take all measures necessary” to prohibit Hezbollah and other groups from acquiring weapons and building paramilitary capacity outside the state’s authority. In the report, Guterres also condemned “all violations of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon” and noted that the IDF’s strikes on Lebanese territory “undermine security and exacerbate the tensions”. He called on Israel to abide by its international law obligations and relevant Security Council resolutions, including “to immediately cease its flights over Lebanese airspace”.

Diplomatic initiatives by France and the US focusing on de-escalation and on bringing the parties to a negotiation process over disputed areas along the Blue Line have continued. However, these efforts have yet to bear fruit. Hezbollah has said on several occasions that until the war in Gaza ends, it will not take part in any negotiations and the Lebanese front “will remain active”.

Lebanon has been without a president for one and a half years since Michel Aoun’s term ended on 31 October 2022, with opposing politico-sectarian blocks unable to agree on a candidate. An informal group of five states (Egypt, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the US), often referred to as “the Quintet”, has held several meetings with Lebanese political leaders in an attempt to mobilise agreement on the presidential file, thus far to no avail. The presidential vacuum is compounded by the fact that, almost two years since the 15 May 2022 legislative elections, Lebanon’s government remains in caretaker status. On 25 April, the Lebanese parliament voted to extend the term of local government officials until 31 May 2025, paving the way for a postponement of the elections for up to a year. This marked the third time that local elections, originally planned for May 2022, have been postponed.

Anti-refugee sentiment, measures, and incidents continue to be a source of concern in Lebanon, which hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world. In a 25 April statement, Human Rights Watch stressed that “Lebanese authorities have arbitrarily detained, tortured, and forcibly returned Syrians to Syria in recent months, including opposition activists and army defectors”. In 2023, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees registered about 300 incidents during which over 13,700 individuals were deported from Lebanon or “pushed back at the border” with Syria.

More than two years since the April 2022 Staff Level Agreement between Lebanon and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Lebanon does not appear to be close to satisfying the preconditions set by the IMF to support the country with around $3 billion.

The investigation into responsibility for the 4 August 2020 Beirut port explosion remains stalled.

Key Issues and Options

The non-implementation of key aspects of resolution 1559 and 1701 remains a key concern. The continuing exchanges of fire across the Blue Line and the risk of a major escalation of violence in Lebanon are also key issues for Council members. Open war in southern Lebanon would have potentially catastrophic effects on the country, where the inability of politicians to agree on a presidential candidate is normalising the paralysis of key Lebanese institutions and, in turn, decreasing the chances of effectively addressing the country’s socioeconomic challenges and catalysing recovery.

Council members are likely to closely monitor developments in Lebanon and across the Blue Line and may consider stepping up diplomatic efforts to emphasise to all actors involved that brinkmanship is likely to have disastrous consequences. Council members may consider issuing a press statement calling on all relevant parties to cease fire and implement Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701. The press statement could also emphasise the importance of respecting international law and stress that civilians and civilian objects must never be targeted. It could also underscore the importance of reforms to promote socioeconomic stability and of respecting the principle of non-refoulement.

Though not addressing the causes of the long-standing hostility between Israel and Hezbollah, a ceasefire in Gaza would likely contribute to quietening the situation along the Blue Line, possibly opening space for indirect talks between Lebanon and Israel. While the Palestinian question remains unresolved, however, the risk of a regional conflagration connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and involving Lebanon is likely to persist even after the end of the war between Israel and Hamas. The resumption of a political process between Israelis and Palestinians to move towards a resolution of the conflict and achieve a two-state solution would have beneficial effects for the whole region, however remote the possibility currently appears. A key issue for Council members and UN member states would be to build effectively on any political momentum in the region to better support Lebanon to overcome its own multi-layered crises.

Council Dynamics

There continues to be broad consensus among Council members in support of Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security. They also agree that a full-scale conflict between Israel and Hezbollah must be avoided. However, differences among Council members persist over 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, have listed Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organisation. In contrast, Russia sees Hezbollah as a legitimate sociopolitical force.

France is the penholder on Lebanon.

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Security Council Resolutions
11 August 2006S/RES/1701 This resolution called for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. It also expanded UNIFIL’s 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.
Secretary-General’s Reports
18 April 2024S/2024/319 This was the latest Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1559.
8 March 2024S/2024/222 This was the most recent Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701.

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