May 19, 2005 -


Upcoming Event

Freeing Lebanon

Thursday, May 19 -
The Brookings Institution
Falk Auditorium

1775 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, DC

Summary of Presentation

Speaking off the record, a senior diplomat discussed the manner in which the international community had supervised the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. The key text, he argued, was UNSCR 1559 (2004), which has three main requirements: the political independence and sovereignty of Lebanon (under which free and fair elections in Lebanon are a key element); withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon; and the disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.

According to the senior diplomat, there were many similarities between the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and the Syrian pullout in 2005. In both cases, the United Nations was designated by the international community to oversee the withdrawal, a process backed by UN Security Council resolutions that have stressed Lebanon’s sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity. The UN Secretary General appointed a special envoy to oversee implementation of the relevant resolutions and to report progress on the basis of a defined timeline. The Secretary General suggested to the UN Security Council how to define the operational requirements for verifying the withdrawal, which in this case meant setting up a verification team that has traveled to Lebanon. The UN Security Council, for its part, has asked for reports on implementation every six months.

The senior diplomat argued that United Nations involvement had played a critical role. The Secretary General’s decisions on how to define the operational requirements of UNSCR 1559 (2004) paved the way for its implementation. UNSCR 1559 (2004) calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon and no foreign country is named. However, the Secretary General in his first report to the UN Security Council stated that, to the best of his ability to ascertain, the only significant foreign military forces in Lebanon were Syrian and that this included a Syrian intelligence presence. One result of publicly acknowledging the role of Syrian intelligence is that a longstanding taboo in both Syria and Lebanon has been broken.

Another UNSCR 1559 (2004) provision is the restoration of Lebanese sovereignty and political independence. The upcoming parliamentary elections in Lebanon [scheduled to take place in stages from May 29 for four weeks] are an essential component of this requirement. Lebanon has agreed to allow international observers to monitor the elections; the other parties concerned have not objected to this arrangement.

A final provision in UNSCR 1559 (2004) calls for the disarmament of all remaining militias, domestic and foreign. The senior diplomat observed that the United Nations has chosen to address the other provisions first. He reported that the United Nations has conducted a continuous dialogue about disarmament with the parties concerned, and has stated it will refocus on this issue as the others are resolved. The militia issue concerns not only Hizballah but also armed Palestinian groups and others that some believe should also be defined as militias. The next report on the implementation of UNSCR 1559 (2004) will be delivered in October 2005 and is expected to concentrate on the militia issue.

The senior diplomat remarked that United Nations has received very good cooperation from all parties concerned with the implementation of UNSCR 1559 (2004). The work of the United Nations has benefited from the firm international and regional consensus on implementing the resolution. Bolstered by international support, and the trust that the United Nations has built up with the parties, the United Nations has had a constructive and positive dialogue with all the key players, including Lebanese Prime Ministers Omar Karami and Najib Miqati, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, and particularly Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.


During the discussion, it was observed that the United Nations believes that there are, at this stage, three possible scenarios for the future of Hizballah as an armed group. In the first, Hizballah will be persuaded by diplomacy and dialogue to disarm voluntarily. A second option would be for the Syrian army to forcibly disarm Hizballah—but that is clearly off the table now that Syria has withdrawn from Lebanon. The third route is for the international community to increase its calls for the Lebanese Army to exercise full sovereignty over its territory on the basis of existing UN resolutions and thereby disarm Hizballah. However, it seems that the Lebanese Army is materially and politically incapable of performing such a role at this stage. The most sensible option at present is diplomacy and dialogue.

The United Nations has noted that the leadership of Hizballah has in recent months publicly floated options for its integration into the Lebanese Army. Under one such proposal, Hizballah would become an army reserve force with its weapons placed in army-controlled depots. Another possibility would be to “re-uniform” Hizballah and simply incorporate it directly into the Lebanese Army. Although the latter proposal is theoretically possible and consistent with the 1989 Ta’if Accords [which ended the Lebanese civil war and are the basis of the post-war Lebanese state], some in Lebanon have issued reservations to this possibility as it would have an impact on the confessional balance within the army.

The United Nations believes that there are several sources of leverage that the international community could use to push Hizballah to accept disarmament. One point of influence is the convergence between UNSCR 1559 (2004) and the Ta’if Accords, especially on the issue of disbanding and disarming militias. All political and confessional groupings in Lebanon, including Hizballah, have accepted the Ta’if Accords. Hizballah might therefore be persuaded to accept disarmament as a step toward full implementation of the Ta’if Accords. The United Nations has emphasized, on several occasions, that although its task is to oversee the implementation of UNSCR 1559 (2004), it has advised the parties subject to the resolution that they are free to reference their political decisions to any agreement they see fit, as long as their actions are in agreement with UNSCR 1559 (2004). The Lebanese government has explained its actions as consistent with its decision to implement some parts of the Ta’if Accords. Whether or not Hizballah would disarm under the same logic of implementing another element of the Ta’if Accords, without demanding full implementation of the rest, is an open question. It was pointed out that the difficulty is that the Ta’if Accords call for the full de-confessionalization of Lebanese political life, which some Christians are wary of.

The Sheba’a Farms issue is purely political. In legal terms there is no merit to the claim that the Sheba’a Farms are Israeli-occupied Lebanese territory. In drawing the “Blue Line” in 2000, the United Nations looked at more than ninety different maps of the region. Only one of them—which was deemed a forgery—showed the Sheba’a Farms as Lebanese.

When Israel withdrew from south Lebanon, the Lebanese president sent a letter to the UN Secretary General in which he wrote that although he had reservations, he would accept the UN line of withdrawal, namely the “Blue Line.”

One outstanding issue impeding a final resolution of the border is the fact that Syria and Lebanon have not demarcated their international boundary. The Syrian foreign minister Faruq al-Shara’ sent a letter to the United Nations on April 26, 2005 in which Syria for the first time he stated that the Sheba’a Farms are Lebanese territory. There is no legal standing to this letter until the two governments bilaterally demarcate their border and register it at the United Nations. By the same logic, the “Blue Line” is only a line of withdrawal and not an international border (even though it follows the line that the United Nations believes is the international border) between Israel and Lebanon. Only through a bilateral agreement can the two countries draw their international boundary.

Despite considerable criticism from some confessional groups in Lebanon, the electoral law of 2000 has been broadly accepted by all Lebanese parties as the foundation for the upcoming elections. They have also accepted a UN election team which is already on the ground in Lebanon advising the government. The election observers will consist of a team from the European Union along with some NGOs.

Iran was apparently approached in the process of implementing the resolution as it is believed that all concerned parties were consulted.