Expected Council Action
In August, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which expires on 31 August.
Key Recent Developments
According to the Secretary-General’s most recent report on the implementation of resolution 1701, the environment in the UNIFIL area of operations remained stable overall during the reporting period (9 March to 21 June), but heightened rhetoric by both parties led to some anxiety among the local population.
In particular, he reported on the events of 20 April, when Hezbollah conducted a tour for Lebanese and international media in the UNIFIL area of operations including along sections of the Blue Line. According to the report, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) notified UNIFIL less than an hour before the tour started, saying that LAF personnel would be present but with no mention of Hezbollah. UNIFIL personnel did not observe unauthorised armed personnel when they encountered the group. However, a UNIFIL investigation, based on reliable media reports and information gathered, found it credible that unauthorised personnel and weapons were present during the event, a violation of resolution 1701. Apart from this incident, UNIFIL did not receive specific information or find evidence of armed personnel, weapons or infrastructure in its area of operations. Israel, however, continues to allege that Hezbollah maintains military infrastructure and equipment in southern Lebanon.
Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace continued on an almost daily basis during the reporting period, and the Israeli occupation of northern Ghajar and an adjacent area north of the Blue Line continued—both of which are violations of resolution 1701 (2006) and of Lebanese sovereignty.
Mutual accusations of violations of resolution 1701 continued. On 25 April, Israel said in a letter to the Council (S/2017/356) that it is “extremely disturbing that armed Hezbollah militants feel free to move openly in the UNIFIL area of operation, without being challenged by UNIFIL or LAF personnel”. In an open debate on protection of civilians on 25 May, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Israel told the Council that Hezbollah had amassed over 100,000 missiles pointing at Israel in violation of resolutions 1559 and 1701. In his letter dated 19 June (S/2017/523), the Permanent Representative of Lebanon denied the presence of armed fighters and weapons in southern Lebanon and accused Israel of encroaching on the daily lives and security of Lebanese civilians with “surveillance towers and listening devices all along the southern border”.
On 8 March, the Secretary-General sent a letter to the Council containing the results of a strategic review of UNIFIL, conducted in accordance with a request from the Council in resolution 2305 of August 2016. The review noted that Lebanon and Israel continue to approach any adjustment to the capabilities, structure or activities of the mission with strong caution, emphasising that, in the current climate of uncertainty, the focus should be on minimising risks. The strategic review determined that the force was well configured overall to implement its mandated tasks and that the mission’s deterrent effect contributes to security and stability in the area. The review recognised that failure to meet the political objectives of resolution 1701—namely, a permanent ceasefire and long-term solution to the conflict—increasingly puts the relative calm achieved in southern Lebanon and along the Blue Line at risk.
The review identified the following three strategic priorities in the implementation of the mandate of UNIFIL: that UNIFIL, in close coordination with the Special Coordinator for Lebanon and the UN country team, should further promote an integrated and comprehensive approach to the implementation of resolution 1701; that UNIFIL should undertake all necessary preventive actions to maintain calm in its area of operations, including as a means to build confidence between the parties and contribute to creating conditions conducive to the establishment of a permanent ceasefire; and that UNIFIL should have contingency plans in place and be prepared to implement its mandate in extreme situations and, in particular, to deliver on its mandated responsibility to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence. The review noted that the overall strategic political guidance is to maintain the current strength, composition and configuration of UNIFIL.
On 20 July, Special Coordinator Sigrid Kaag and Assistant Secretary-General El Ghassim Wane briefed Council members in consultations on the report. In their interventions, it seems that members echoed concerns about the lack of progress on the implementation of 1701 and over violations of the resolution, particularly the build-up of weapons by Hezbollah. Issues such as the plight of Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, increasing women’s political representation, the need to support the LAF, and implementing the recommendations of the strategic review of UNIFIL were raised by various members. Ambassador Nikki Haley (US) said that Hezbollah was calling the shots in Lebanon, that the LAF had no control, and that things needed to change. She stated that while the US supports the work of UNIFIL, the force needed to “do more” to reduce the illicit build-up of arms, and that this should be considered at the time of the mandate renewal.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 8 June, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) published its concluding observations on Lebanon’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The CRC noted measures taken to implement the convention and commended Lebanon’s role in hosting and supporting a large number of Syrian refugees, including children. It also highlighted the need for further progress, making recommendations regarding such issues as corporal punishment, sexual exploitation and abuse, children with disabilities, economic exploitation, and the administration of juvenile justice.
The main issue is that although the situation is relatively calm, there has been little progress toward the key objectives of resolution 1701 nearly 11 years after its adoption, including a permanent ceasefire.
A central issue is that Hezbollah and other non-state actors continue to maintain weaponry that directly hinders the government’s exercise of full authority over its territory, poses a threat to Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability, and contravenes its obligations under resolutions 1559 and 1701. In that context, the ongoing crisis in Syria, with Hezbollah’s involvement on the side of the regime, and the flow of arms from Syria to Hezbollah remain of great concern.
One option for the Council is to renew the mandate of UNIFIL for an additional year without significant changes. However, since the US has indicated that it would like UNIFIL to “do more”, another option is renewing UNIFIL with changes to the mandate in this regard.
The Council has long been united in its position that UNIFIL contributes to stability between Israel and Lebanon, and there is broad support for the mission, as well as for the LAF. However, the US, which appears to be increasingly interested in focusing the Council’s attention on the threats posed by Hezbollah and Iran, has been critical of UNIFIL and indicated that it may push for an augmented mandate. In contrast, France, the penholder, appears to prefer to renew the mandate with no major changes, which is widely supported by other members.
UN DOCUMENTS ON LEBANON
|Security Council Resolutions|
|30 August 2016 S/RES/2305||This was a resolution which renewed UNIFIL’s mandate for an additional year and requested the Secretary-General to conduct a strategic review of UNIFIL by February 2017.|
|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.|
|11 July 2017 S/2017/591||This report was on the implementation of resolution 1701.|
|Security Council Letters|
|19 June 2017 S/2017/523||This letter was from the Permanent Representative of Lebanon denouncing the presence of armed fighters and weapons in southern Lebanon.|
|25 April 2017 S/2017/356||This letter was from the Permanent Representative of Israel regarding Hezbollah’s alleged activities in Lebanon.|
|8 March 2017 S/2017/202||This was the Secretary-General’s strategic review of the UNIFIL.|