What's In Blue

Posted Wed 28 Aug 2019

UN Interim Force in Lebanon Mandate Renewal

Tomorrow (29 August) the Security Council will vote on a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for another year ahead of its 31 August expiry. Leading up to tomorrow’s vote, Council members held two rounds of negotiations on the draft resolution. The draft passed silence earlier today and was subsequently put in blue.

On 7 July, Lebanon wrote to the Secretary-General requesting the Security Council to extend the mission’s mandate for another year, “without amendment to its mandate, its concept of operations and its rules of engagement”. Subsequently, the Secretary-General sent a letter (S/2019/619) to the president of the Council recommending the extension of UNIFIL’s mandate.

The Council has been generally supportive of UNIFIL, and most members share the view that the mission plays an important role in maintaining stability in Lebanon and the wider region. Leading up to the negotiations on the draft resolution, the prevailing view among Council members was that the mission’s mandate should be renewed in its current configuration. The US, however, apparently indicated that it wanted more substantial changes to the mandate and configuration of the mission. It seems that during the initial round of negotiations last Wednesday, the US presented some of its main priorities. Chief among them were proposals to reduce the troop ceiling; increase UNIFIL’s access within the mission’s area of operations; conduct a strategic review of the mission; and strengthen the language on the arms embargo.

Ahead of negotiations on the draft text, France emphasised the importance of preserving the Council’s unity and sending a message of Council support for the mission. The initial US proposal to reduce the troop ceiling to 9,000 appears to have encountered strong opposition from the majority of Council members, particularly among troop contributors such as Indonesia, the largest troop contributor to UNIFIL. The troop ceiling for UNIFIL is currently set at 15,000 while the actual troop number stands at around 10,277.  Most Council members seem to fear that any troop reduction could have a negative effect on the situation on the ground and could jeopardise the relative stability that has been maintained for some time.

It appears that the majority of Council members also opposed the US proposal for a strategic review of the mission. Several members questioned the usefulness of another review given that a review was conducted just two years ago. Also, some members thought that if necessary, a strategic review should precede any changes in troop levels and should not be done simultaneously, as suggested by the US.

UNIFIL’s access within its area of operations remains a sensitive issue for some Council members. The current US administration has advocated the mission taking a more proactive approach in confronting violations of resolution 1701. UNIFIL continues to face restrictions on access to certain sites. For example, the mission has yet to gain access to sites related to the tunnels that were discovered crossing the Blue Line in violation of resolution 1701. Some members seem to be more cautious on the issue of access, among other reasons placing a strong emphasis on the sovereignty of the host country.

France, the penholder, put the draft under silence on Monday. The silence appears to have been broken by the US, and it also appears that several other members raised some specific issues. After further bilateral negotiations, the penholder put a revised version of the draft in blue this afternoon (28 August).

The draft does not directly address troop numbers; therefore, the configuration of the mission would not change. It does, however, call for an assessment of the mission to be conducted by the Secretariat and to take into consideration the troop ceiling and civilian component of UNIFIL. This appears to be a compromise over the initial US call for a comprehensive strategic review of the mission. It seems that Indonesia might still find this language problematic.

In comparison to last year’s resolution, the draft in blue contains strengthened language on the need for freedom of movement and access for the mission, as well as a request for the Secretary-General to include enhanced reporting on the implementation of the arms embargo in his reporting to the Council. It also retains the language on women, peace and security that was added to the 2018 mandate renewal resolution with the addition of a reference to Lebanon’s preparation of its first National Action Plan.

Negotiations on the draft took place amid escalating tensions in the region. On Sunday, Lebanon alleged that two Israeli drones crashed in Beirut’s southern suburbs which are under the control of Hezbollah. Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Monday that the attacks represent a declaration of war by Israel and that Lebanon has the right to defend itself. Lebanon has claimed that the incidents represent a clear violation by Israel of resolution 1701. Israel has not formally claimed responsibility for the alleged attacks in Beirut. On Saturday, Israel confirmed that it had carried out airstrikes in Syria near Damascus to prevent an impending threat to Israel. These incidents have reinforced the view by most Council members of UNIFIL’s important role in maintaining stability in the region. It appears that some members wanted the draft resolution to make some reference to these violations. As a result, the draft in blue contains language condemning all violations of the Blue Line, both by air and ground.

It appears that Lebanon was kept informed of the negotiations and is comfortable with the draft resolution in blue.

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