No Iranian Puppet, New Lebanese President Surprises by Open Door to Washington

The analysts always have a ball with Lebanon’s enigmatic, volatile and unpredictable politics and the appointment of Gen. Michel Aoun, 81, a Christian, as president after parliament spent two and-a-half years in limbo has generated a flurry of speculation.
He climbed the ladder to power by forging a coalition between his Free Patriotic Movement and Hizballah and negotiating deals with the opposition grouping, the pro-Western, anti-Syrian March 14 alliance, which is composed of the heads of Lebanon’s three main sectarian groups – the Sunni Said Hariri, the Christian Samir Geagea and the Druze Walid Jumblatt.
Some analysts find the key to Aoun’s coming performance as president in the pact he forged a decade ago with the pro-Iranian Shiite Hizballah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, followed two years later by his reconciliatory handshake with Syrian ruler Bashar Assad.
Gen. Aoun, a former commander of the Lebanese army, has been depicted by many pundits as pro-Iranian and his election as a victory for Iran. Through him, they maintain, Tehran has expanded its sphere of influence from Damascus to Beirut. Riyadh, for years the big wheel in Beirut, is finally displaced.
DEBKA Weekly’s Middle East sources challenge this assessment, because it omits to take into account the following facts:
1. The nearly six-year civil war in Syria has blurred Lebanon’s existence as a separate nation-state of the Levant. Hizballah’s massive military intervention in support of the Assad regime against the Syrian insurrection and the close operational interaction between his army and the Russian, Syrian and Iranian commands running Assad’s war, will make it impossible for Lebanon to disentangle itself from the Syrian conflict and its consequences.
It is inconceivable that if this war ever ends, Hizballah forces will go home quietly and put it behind them for good. Some of the Lebanese Shiite soldiers will undoubtedly stay on in Syria and this would open the way for parts of western Syria to be annexed to Lebanon.
2. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates including the United Arab Emirates have moved back from their active support of Sunni rebel groups. They have had enough of depleting their strength in regional conflicts in which Russia and Iran play a leading role, while the US remains absent.
After losing faith in the Sunni Syrian rebels winning the day against Assad, Riyadh went on to pull the rug from under Lebanon’s Sunni leader Sa’id Hariri. After subsisting on slashed Saudi subsidies for six months, Hariri called it a day and stopped paying wages in the business firms that were his power base.
For lack of other options, he threw in his lot with his political foes to anoint Aoun president, trading his endorsement for the premiership in the new administration in Beirut. This gave the Sunni leader a new power base and source of political funding.
3. It would be premature to determine that Aoun’s election promises to open Beirut’s door to heightened Iranian influence beyond the sway over its Hizballah proxy. The new president is reputed to be inflexible and unpredictable. Some of his critics at home call him a corrupt megalomaniac.
He has passed his party’s leadership to one of his sons-in-law Gebran Bassil, who has the reputation of being up to his neck in corruption scandals and allegations of sectarian incitement.
Despite his advanced age, Aoun is not about to retire to cushy palace in Beirut and take orders from Tehran or the Hizballah leader.
Lebanon must therefore expect surprises from the new president.
BREAKING: He landed the first surprise as we closed this issue.
In an exclusive report from Washington, DEBKA Weekly’s sources reveal the contents of a confidential message which Aoun sent to the Obama administration shortly after his swearing-in as president.
Along with a request for US assistance and support, he asked not to be treated as Nasrallah’s obedient minion and stressed that the Hizballah leader would not be allowed to boss him around or dictate policies.
Aoun vowed to rule his country as “a true Lebanese patriot and proud Maronite [Lebanese Catholic]”.
In a bid for American trust, the president said his first step would be to replace pro-Syrian Gen. Jean Kahwaji, as Commander of the Army, whose term of office was extended last month for an additional year, and appoint in his stead the much-decorated Brig. Gen. Chamel Roukoz, 59, who was forced to resign a year ago as commander of Lebanon’s special operations forces.
Roukoz, another of the president’s sons-in-law, could be trusted to fully comply with Aoun’s policies.
Shedding light on those policies, Aoun promised to work with the Christian Phalange chief Geagea and hire his followers to senior posts in the palace; to stand behind the Sunni Prime Minister Hariri and to join hands with Hariri and the Druze Jumblatt in a front against Hizballah’s Nasrallah.
The new president also pledged to implement Security Council 1701 that brought the 2006 Second Lebanon War with Israel to an end with a ceasefire, and procured Beirut’s commitment to demilitarize southern Lebanon up to the Israel border.
He also promised to restore Lebanese governance to the South and the Beqa’a Valley which are currently ruled by Hizballah.
Finally, Aoun asked the US to bring the contents of his message to the notice of the Israeli government.

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