Expected Council Action
In March, Acting UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Pernille Dahler Kardel, and possibly a representative of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), will brief Council members in consultations on the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701, which called for a cessation of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.
The mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) expires on 31 August.
Key Recent Developments
On 4 November 2017, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation in a televised address from Saudi Arabia, citing Iran’s meddling in Arab affairs and an alleged assassination plot against him. In a statement issued the next day, the Secretary-General expressed concern about the news of Hariri’s resignation while reiterating the UN’s continued support for the security, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon. After spending almost three weeks outside Lebanon, Hariri returned to Beirut, saying he would delay his resignation in an effort to advance the dialogue among political actors on the country’s relations with the rest of the region. On 5 December, Hariri formally withdrew his resignation after the government reaffirmed Lebanon’s policy of disassociation from the conflicts in the region.
Hariri attended the 8 December 2017 ministerial-level meeting in Paris of the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG), chaired by France and the UN. A joint statement issued by the group welcomed Hariri’s decision to return to his post and the decision of the government to disassociate itself from the conflicts in the region. On 12 December, Ambassador François Delattre (France) briefed Council members under “any other business” on the situation in Lebanon and the Paris ISG meeting. Council members welcomed Hariri’s return to Lebanon in a press statement on 19 December.
On 5 February, UNIFIL head of mission and force commander Major General Michael Beary hosted the most recent tripartite meeting with senior officials from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The discussions were focused on the IDF’s construction of the border wall in the area south of the Blue Line, the border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel. According to media reports, Lebanon has claimed that the wall passes through its territory and thus constitutes a violation of its sovereignty, while the IDF emphasised that all construction work is being done on Israeli territory. At the tripartite meeting Beary noted that, overall, there has been a period of relative calm in UNIFIL’s area of operations but acknowledged that there has been increased activity along the Blue Line. He also said that both parties have shown restraint to ease the tensions.
Another point of contention between the two countries has emerged over the prospect of exploring for hydrocarbon resources off the coast of Lebanon. Earlier this year, Lebanon concluded a deal with oil and gas companies Total, Eni and Novatek regarding offshore exploration and production of oil and gas. Israel and Lebanon have unresolved maritime borders in some of the areas where the exploration would take place, and Israel has warned against exploration in the disputed waters. During his visit to Lebanon on 15 February, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson weighed in on this issue, saying that the US would continue to engage with both sides in an effort to end the current impasse. He also voiced his concerns regarding Hezbollah’s engagement in regional conflicts and its destabilising effects on Lebanon.
In February, US Acting Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield held meetings with representatives of both countries in an attempt to mediate the border dispute. According to media reports, the speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, Nabih Berri, rejected US proposals on the border issue after meeting with Satterfield on 16 February. In a televised address the same day, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened retaliation against Israel should it exploit gas sites in Lebanese territorial waters. After meeting with Satterfield on 18 February, Israeli energy minister Yuval Steinitz emphasised that a diplomatic solution would be preferable to both sides.
Issues and Options
While the situation in UNIFIL’s area of operations has been generally calm, the Council remains concerned about the lack of progress towards implementing the main objectives of resolution 1701, including the permanent ceasefire, more than a decade after its adoption.
A principal issue for the Council is that Hezbollah and other non-state actors still maintain significant amounts of weaponry. This inhibits the government’s ability to exercise full authority over its territory, poses a threat to Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability, and contravenes its obligations under resolutions 1559 and 1701. Another related issue is Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war and the movement of arms from Syria to Hezbollah.
Last year’s UNIFIL renewal resolution requested the Secretary-General to look at ways to enhance the mission’s efforts, including increasing its visible presence, patrols and inspections. Some Council members might be interested to hear more on this issue. The Council could request a briefing by DPKO focusing on whether and how UNIFIL’s work has changed since the adoption of resolution 2373 and what impact this has had on the overall security situation.
Although the Council continues to support UNIFIL and values its contribution to stability in the region and between Israel and Lebanon, there are some differences among members concerning the role of the mission. The US in particular has expressed criticism of UNIFIL. It has advocated for a more proactive role for the mission in confronting the threat of Hezbollah and has been increasingly vocal about what it believes is the rising threat of Hezbollah and its proliferation of weapons. At the last mandate renewal, France and some other members, particularly UNIFIL troop-contributor Italy, which has since left the Council, have been cautious about the prospect of a more proactive approach by the mission, tending to believe that this could threaten the fragile calm in southern Lebanon that has been maintained for the past ten years. However, there is a general consensus among Council members about supporting Lebanon’s territorial integrity and security, condemning acts of terrorism, and recognising the crucial role the LAF plays in responding to security challenges.
France is the penholder on Lebanon.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LEBANON
|Security Council Resolutions|
|30 August 2017 S/RES/2373||This resolution renewed UNIFIL’s mandate for another year.|
|11 August 2006 S/RES/1701||This resolution expanded UNIFIL by 15,000 troops and expanded its mandate.|
|2 September 2004 S/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.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|22 July 2016 S/PRST/2016/10||This was a presidential statement that stressed the importance of Lebanon’s electing a president by May 2017 in order to maintain stability.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|19 December 2017 SC/13130||This was a statement welcoming Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s return to Lebanon and his decision to continue his term.|