CAIRO — Lebanon’s recently elected president Michel Aoun on Sunday blamed Israel for the need to support the Iranian-backed Shiite terror group Hezbollah in “a complementary role to the Lebanese army.”
“As long as the Lebanese army is not strong enough to battle Israel … we feel the need for its existence,” Aoun told the Egyptian TV network CBC.
Hezbollah’s militia is a force that rivals Lebanon’s army and police. Aoun, whose Christian party is allied with Hezbollah, said earlier that Iran’s support for the group “could continue indefinitely.”
The United Nations on Monday responded to Aoun’s remarks by warning that Resolution 1701, reached as part of a ceasefire deal after the 2006 war between Israel and the terror group, prohibits the country from being allowed to field its own militia.
“UN resolution 1701 is vital for Lebanon’s stability and security,” UN Coordinator Sigird Kaag said in a tweet.”The resolution calls for disarmament of all armed groups. No arms outside control of state.”
On Sunday, The Times of Israel reported that Israeli officials believe Hezbollah and Lebanese troops are cooperating near the border with Israel, in contravention of UNSCR 1701.
Aoun, who was elected president in October after a 29-month political stalemate, arrived in Egypt on Monday for the first time in 55 years.
After talks with his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, also a former career military officer, he called upon Egypt to lead an “Arab salvation plan” to combat terrorism in the region.
Aoun also invited Sissi to visit Lebanon and said that Egypt has offered to support the Lebanese army and the country’s security forces, without elaborating further.
Lebanon’s political factions are deeply divided with some, like Aoun’s party and Hezbollah, aligning with Iran, while their opponents side with Saudi Arabia.
Aoun’s remarks about Hezbollah could spark tension with Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival. The two countries have been engaged in proxy wars across the region for years.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia are at odds over conflicting agendas, including Syria and Yemen. In October, the Saudis halted oil shipments to Cairo, at a time when Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation, is in deep economic crisis.
The Saudi move appears to have been in response to Egypt’s support of a UN Security Council resolution on Syria that was fiercely opposed by Riyadh. Saudi Arabia backs Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad. Egypt, fearing the rise of Islamic militants, has pushed for a political solution that might keep Assad in power.
Aoun visited Saudi Arabia last month in an attempt to restore relations, which deteriorated after Riyadh accused Beirut of failing to condemn the 2016 attacks on Saudi missions in Iran after the kingdom’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.
In retaliation, Saudi Arabia halted a $3 billion arms deal and banned Saudis and other Gulf nationals from traveling to Lebanon.
After Aoun’s visit, the ban on travelers was lifted but the arms deal remains on pause. A senior Lebanese official told The Associated Press at the time that the Saudis have conditions to unblock the military aid to Lebanon, suggesting that the arms must not end up in the hands of Hezbollah, which the Saudis view as a terrorist organization.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.