Consultations on Lebanon
Tomorrow (8 May) Council members will be briefed in consultations by Special Envoy Terje Rød-Larsen on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 1559. No outcome is expected. The destabilising effects of the spillover from the conflict in Syria on the political and security situation in Lebanon is likely to be a key focus of the discussion. Two of the key unresolved issues impeding the full implementation resolution 1559 are the fact that Hezbollah maintains a significant arsenal outside of the control of the government of Lebanon and that the delineation of the border between Syria and Lebanon has not taken place.
It is likely that Council members will be most interested in hearing about the challenges facing Lebanon’s stated policy of disassociation from the conflict in Syria. The Council last discussed Lebanon during its quarterly open debate on the Middle East on 24 April. Highlighting the spillover from Syria, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman reiterated “the concern of the UN that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon should be fully respected by all parties.” The impact of refugee flows from Syria to Lebanon also came up at a humanitarian briefing on the situation in Syria on 18 April, at which UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres described the crisis as an “existential threat” to Lebanon.
A possible Security Council visiting mission to the region (visiting refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and possibly other neighbours of Syria) may also come up in tomorrow’s discussion. On 25 April, Jordan submitted a letter to the Security Council requesting a private meeting of the Council with Jordan on the humanitarian situation caused by the influx of Syrian refugees into Jordan. The letter further asked the Council to make a determination that the Syrian refugee situation would constitute a threat to international peace and security if left unchecked and if Jordan does not receive the financial assistance necessary to cope with the situation, and to undertake a visiting mission to Jordan. The Council held consultations with Jordan on 30 April, during which Jordan made clear it would need approximately $1 billion by the end of the year in order to effectively face the refugee crisis.
Though the possibility of a visiting mission faced opposition from Russia and other Council members on 30 April, the question was raised again during consultations on the monthly programme of work on 2 May, by which point it appeared that a majority of Council members supported the idea. Even so, Russia continued to oppose such a visit on the grounds that the financial nature of the request did not necessitate such a mission. The UK, in turn, suggested that a technical mission might be possible and added that any mission should also visit Lebanon and Turkey. The UK again raised the issue of a visiting mission under other matters on 6 May, though the same dynamics prevailed, with China and Russia either opposing the mission or suggesting that it also visit the Occupied Palestinian Territories, an option that the US opposes. China and Russia have suggested that an international conference on the Syrian refugee situation, as proposed by President Michel Suleiman of Lebanon, would be a more appropriate response to address the concerns raised by Jordan.
At press time Council members were scheduled this afternoon to hear a briefing from the Department of Safety and Security (DSS) on the possibility of a trip to the region. The possibility of any visit will likely hinge on the security assessment by DSS, with a negative assessment allowing those opposed to the visiting mission to use technical reasons to sustain their opposition.
Potential delays to the upcoming parliamentary elections in Lebanon scheduled for June is another issue that may be raised. Ongoing disagreements over a new electoral law to replace that used in the 2009 elections, and delays in the formation of a new cabinet following the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati in March, have threatened to delay the polls.
Other aspects of the crisis in Syria that may also come up for discussion during the consultations include alleged airstrikes by Israel in Syria that involved violations of Lebanon’s airspace. Alleged Israeli airstrikes in Syria on 3 and 5 May purportedly targeted missiles from Iran that Israel believed were intended for delivery to Hezbollah. These strikes have sparked concerns that Hezbollah might retaliate against Israel, which would add to insecurity in the south of Lebanon and might draw Lebanon into a broader regional conflict. In a letter submitted to the Security Council on 6 May, Lebanon called on the Council to “compel” Israel to cease its ongoing violations of its sovereignty, highlighting intensified violations of its airspace in recent days.