Lebanon’s new cabinet announced Staff Brigadier General Joseph Aoun as the new head of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) on Wednesday. Aoun, who commanded the 9th Brigade, was a favorite to take the post, and reportedly has the backing of newly-elected President Michel Aoun (no relation), a Hezbollah ally. The president’s support, however, means little on its own. Appointments to such sensitive positions require Hezbollah’s approval.
A native of south Lebanon, Gen. Aoun was responsible for maintaining security and liaising with UN monitors in the sector south of the Litani River – the area of Lebanon where Hezbollah’s presence is strongest. Given the nature and location of his mission, Aoun is inevitably a well-known entity to Hezbollah.
Last year, Aoun, as the commander of the 9th Brigade, took up a new mission in the Arsal-Hermel sector in northeastern Lebanon on the border with Syria. Since 2013, the LAF has been battling pockets of Syrian armed factions, including jihadists, in the area’s rough terrain. In addition, the LAF, with the help of Western aid, has built a fortified defensive line in the area to prevent ambushes and infiltrations into Lebanon. The Lebanese government and the LAF have been showcasing this effort as grounds for continued aid from the United States and Europe.
But there is more to the story. Northeastern Lebanon is not just another Hezbollah stronghold; it is also the gateway for its deployment in Syria, especially in the nearby town of Qusayr and the Qalamoun region – both of them now Hezbollah military zones. Therefore, LAF operations there are closely coordinated with the group, and the military has helped it secure logistical lines in and out of Syria. In other words, in both of his assignments in southern and northern Lebanon, Aoun would have had to coordinate closely with Hezbollah.
Another senior LAF officer who works closely with Hezbollah is Brig. Gen. Kamil Daher, head of the influential LAF Directorate of Intelligence. Although Daher had been briefly floated as a potential candidate for army chief, the announcement of him remaining in his current position likely reflects Hezbollah’s comfort with him there.
The upper echelons of Lebanon’s civilian and military leadership – from the president and defense minister to the new LAF commander and head of military intelligence – are Hezbollah-aligned, comprised of officers with a history of close coordination with the group. Without the group’s approval, none would be in office. That is the unfortunate reality of Lebanon today: Hezbollah, the long arm of the Islamic Republic of Iran, holds the political and security reins more tightly than ever.
Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @AcrossTheBay