Lebanon’s newly-elected president vowed to “liberate Lebanese territories occupied by Israel” in his first speech following his appointment.
Retired general Michel Aoun, 81, said no effort would be spared in Lebanon’s effort to “defend itself against an enemy who aspires to control our land, water and natural resources,” a reference to natural gas fields located in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel.
Lebanon has claimed the gas fields extend into its water territory.
Aoun secured the presidency earlier Monday after winning the backing of 83 of Lebanon’s 128 Members of Parliament, including the crucial backing of Hezbollah and the Shiite bloc, ending a two-and-a-half-year deadlock, including 45 failed attempts to elect a new president.
Despite the largely ceremonial role the country’s president plays, critics fear Aoun’s appointment will be further victory as it solidifies Hezbollah’s national role and tips the balance in favor of Tehran in the ongoing regional conflict between Sunni and Shiite rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“The selection of General Aoun as a President of the Lebanese Republic may seem to please the country on the surface after two years of constitutional void, but it places an ally to Hezbollah in the highest office of the land,” Tom Harb, Secretary General of the World Council of the Cedars Revolution told The Foreign Desk.
The World Council of the Cedars Revolution is a Washington-based NGO comprised of Lebanese nationals living outside the country and dedicated to freedom and democracy in Lebanon.
“Aoun will have to appoint Hezbollah and allies to the cabinet and to the command of the Lebanese army,” Harb said.
The deadlock was broken earlier this month when former Prime Minister and leader of the Lebanon’s Sunni bloc Saad Hariri who heads the “Future Movement” agreed to end the political stalemate and back Aoun for president.
Hariri, who will reportedly be appointed prime minister, was the first choice of Saudi Arabia.
Lebanon’s constitution mandates the appointment of a Sunni prime minister, a Shiite speaker of parliament, and a Christian (Maronite) president. Maronites represent the largest Christian denomination in Lebanon and approximately 22 percent of Lebanon’s population.
The president is involved in selecting the country’s cabinet and has a large say on foreign policy.
Aoun has received substantial support from Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Iran-backed Lebanese terror group, Hezbollah. Nasrallah formally backed Aoun for president for more than two years and the two have met regularly to discuss domestic issues as well as the ongoing conflict in Syria.
“Aoun was appointed by Tehran not elected by the Lebanese people,” Joe Baini, president of the World Council of the Cedars Revolution said.
Baini points out the hypocrisy of many political factions who had previously marginalized Hezbollah and Aoun himself for his affiliations with the group and with Tehran and are now supporting his presidency.
“There will be a short period of stability before this system collapses again and badly,” Baini said.
A senior advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei welcomed Aoun’s victory as a “great triumph for the Islamic Resistance movement in Lebanon and for Iran’s allies and friends” according to Iranian State media.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also tweeted “Congratulations to all the Lebanese on election of President Aoun.”
Congratulations to all Lebanese on election of President Aoun. Stability and progress assured when Lebanese themselves decide for #Lebanon.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) October 31, 2016
Aoun said he would pledge support for Syria’s President Bashar al Assad vis-à-vis Hezbollah who have maintained a substantial presence in Syria since 2012, dispatching many armed fighters from Lebanon.
State Department spokesman John Kirby called Aoun’s appointment “a moment of opportunity,” deflecting a question on Hezbollah’s backing of Aoun by saying “Let’s see what decisions he makes, what kind of leadership he exudes as president.”