Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said on Thursday that all of Lebanon would be a target if Hezbollah fired on Israel. Aoun's comments also followed warnings this week
by the leader of the armed Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah, a
political ally of the president, against any Israeli aggression.
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said the group's rockets
had the ability to strike Israel's nuclear reactor at Dimona and its
military infrastructure - an apparent warning against any Israeli
military action that he said might be approved by the new U.S.
president, Donald Trump.
In 2006 Israel fought a month-long war against Hezbollah in south Lebanon.
Since then, hostilities between them have been
limited to occasional firing across the border and air strikes by Israel
against Hezbollah leaders and military equipment in Syria, where the
group is fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
Trump's administration has been vocal in its criticism of Hezbollah's patron Iran and in its support for Israel.
(Reporting by John Davison in Beirut; Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
Aoun assures critics that Hezbollah would be bound by the National Defense Strategy
By: Joseph A. Kechichian
Beirut: A day after Michel Aoun
told an Egyptian newspaper that Hezbollah’s weapons did “not contradict
with the [authority of the] State,” the Lebanese President appeared to
backtrack by insisting that the party will comply with the National
Defence Strategy, even if one is yet to be adopted.
Though Aoun “guaranteed” that Hezbollah would not “turn its arms
inward,” as it had in the past, he warned that there was no reason to
add fuel to the controversial fire. His interview
with Egyptian media outlets raised eyebrows, however, as the Phalange
Party, a key actor on the local scene, categorically rejected the
An official Phalange statement maintained that “all weapons outside
the legal institutions are in contradiction with the planned
construction of the State, legally and constitutionally”. It added:
“Only the army and law enforcement must be responsible for defending the
country,” stressing the importance of respecting all international resolutions on the subject, including 1559 and 1701.
Aoun’s comments elicited a reaction from the UN representative in
Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag, who tweeted the international repercussions of
such a position in words that upset some: “Reminder of the Security
Council resolution 1701, vital to the stability and security of Lebanon.
This resolution calls for the disarmament of all armed groups. No
weapons beyond the control of the State,” she wrote.
Other officials were equally livid, with the Minister of Labour Mohammad Kabbara (Future Movement) clarifying that the 2006 memorandum of understanding between Aoun and Hassan Nasrallah will not be transferred to Baabda Palace.
Future Movement parliamentarian, Amine Wehbé, opined that the
president’s position “weakens the national sovereignty and the
neutrality of the presidency and consequently reduces the scope of the
sacrifices of the army, courage and efficiency”.
Shaken by the level of criticisms, the president quickly fell back on
a nuanced reply, clarifying that he would not allow anyone to stand
above the State. He advanced the notion that Hezbollah arms would be
subject to the National Defence Strategy, though one is yet to be
Aoun was a participant in the endless roundtables among elites to
discuss the adoption of such a blueprint, even if the previous
president’s efforts came to naught. Michel Sleiman probably devoted more
time to this subject than any other leader between 2008 and 2014, all
to draft a defence strategy over Israeli threats, terrorism dangers and
the spread of illegal weapons in the country, though he failed to reach
consensus before he left office.
Suleiman laboured tirelessly to persuade the political establishment
that a defence strategy that relies on the Lebanese Army is a must; that
strengthening the armed forces was overdue; and that Hezbollah’s
weapons must be surrendered to the sole legitimate military institution
in the country.
The last time when the Lebanese Parliament acted on a defence matter
was in March 1979, when a defence law was adopted. That initiative
reorganised the command structure
of the armed forces, created the Supreme Defence Council, which
consists of the president of the republic as chairman, the prime
minister as vice-chairman, and the deputy prime minister and the
ministers of defence, foreign affairs, interior, and finance as members,
and invited the commander of the armed forces to attend Supreme Defence Council meetings in an advisory capacity.
Aoun told Egyptian television that “Lebanon, relative to its
surroundings in terms of both human and economic power, is incapable of
building a military force capable of confronting the enemy.” Many
Lebanese disagreed, perceiving the real challenge coming from Hezbollah,
which is in no hurry to surrender its weapons to the State.