Hizbullah is working to elect a "puppet" president in Lebanon
By Yoni Ben Menachem
An important guest visited Lebanon in recent days, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who arrived in Beirut and met with Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and senior officials in the Lebanese government.
His meetings with senior officials in Lebanon dealt with the consequences of the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran on the situation in Lebanon and the election of a new president for Lebanon.
Amir-Abdollahian's visit to Beirut is interpreted as an Iranian message to the Lebanese that following Iran's signing of an agreement with Saudi Arabia, Iran does not intend to surrender its influence on Lebanon. Other than offering Lebanon power stations and "bilateral cooperation in the electricity and gas sectors," Amir-Abdollahian held out no hint of aid for Lebanon's collapsing economy. "Of course, the U.S. pressures and fear-mongering about sanctions are among the problems in this regard, but you should know that the U.S. sanctions have failed," he added, according to the Tehran Times.
[Editor's note: In November 2022, Samantha Power, the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, visited Lebanon and announced a grant of $72 million in emergency food assistance. In March 2023, the European Union announced 60 million euros in humanitarian aid. Since 2012, the United States has provided $3 billion in humanitarian assistance to Lebanon.]
The Iranian minister also visited southern Lebanon together with Hizbullah representatives, observed the border with Israel, and expressed his support for the Lebanese resistance. "We are here today…to declare again with a loud voice that we support the resistance in Lebanon against the Zionist entity," he declared.
Amir-Abdollahian also met with the leader of Iran's foremost proxy in the Palestinian camp, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Ziyad al-Nakhalah, Secretary-General of Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, (left)
met with Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in Beirut
The Iranian foreign minister held several meetings at the Iranian Embassy in Beirut with more than 20 members of the Lebanese Parliament and emphasized the need for the Lebanese to reach an agreement among themselves regarding the new president of Lebanon.
In other words, he clearly hinted that Iran recommends aligning themselves with Hizbullah's line that promotes the candidacy of former minister Franjieh for the presidency.
Former minister Franjieh is Hassan Nasrallah's candidate for the presidency and he officially mentions his name in his speeches and openly supports him.
Suleiman Franjieh himself expresses optimism that the situation in Lebanon will improve in light of the changes in the region, chief among them the agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia and the rapprochement of Saudi Arabia with Syria. He is encouraged by the fact that France supports his candidacy for the presidency and by Hizbullah's insistence on continuing to support him as the next president.
Hizbullah sends a clear message to the Lebanese that Franjieh is the only candidate for the position of president and that not supporting him will mean a political vacuum for a very long time.
Hizbullah is looking for a president who will be its puppet, just like the previous president General Michel Aoun. While France, a significant supporter, supports Suleiman Franjieh's candidacy for the presidency, there is strong opposition in the Lebanese domestic arena to his election as president. Two Christian blocs oppose his candidacy for the presidency: the "Free National Party" and "The Lebanese Forces Party."
They are working to thwart his election as president and are citing the Lebanese constitution, which states that a president must be elected by the parliament with a two-thirds majority.
Suleiman Franjieh is considered by his opponents to be a corrupt politician, part of the government apparatus that has looted Lebanon's finances in recent years, and a puppet of Syria. For them, his election as president of Lebanon means handing Lebanon over to Iran, which will strengthen its hegemony in Lebanon.
Franjieh, for his part, began a campaign of courting and flattering all the parties in Lebanon as well as Saudi Arabia a few days ago. He said that he has no hostility towards Saudi Arabia and only wants good for the Arabs and Saudi Arabia.
Hizbullah expresses optimism regarding the possibility that Suleiman Franjieh will be elected president of Lebanon. Sheikh Naim Kassem, Deputy Secretary-General of Hizbullah, said on April 28, 2023, that the positive signs are increasing day by day on the way to electing a president for the republic and that Hizbullah supports Suleiman Franjieh because he is worthy to be the president.
He added that the countries of the world are convinced that they cannot impose on the Lebanese the man who will be the next president of Lebanon.
The ramifications of the Iran-Saudi agreement on the election of a president for Lebanon
Throughout the years, Saudi Arabia has had a significant influence on Lebanese politics. Lebanon cannot recover economically without the help of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, which gives Saudi Arabia power in the election of the next president in Lebanon.
Hizbullah is convinced that Saudi Arabia's agreement with Iran will have a positive effect on the resolution of several disputes and conflicts in the Middle East, such as achieving a ceasefire and a political solution to the war in Yemen, in which Saudi Arabia is involved, and also on the issue of the election of the president in Lebanon.
Hizbullah is waiting for Iran to convince Saudi Arabia to support Suleiman Franjieh's candidacy for President of Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia is biding its time to see whether Iran will deliver the goods when it comes to ending the war in Yemen.
Iran is interested in showing the world that its agreement with Saudi Arabia is not a fraud and that by following it, the Middle East is moving in a more positive direction. One of the most prominent issues is reaching an agreement on the issue of the presidential elections in Lebanon.
Hizbullah placed Suleiman Franjieh at the forefront of the political stage in Lebanon and sent a clear message to the Lebanese, saying that this was the next president for them, and they must accept him because there was no other suitable candidate for the position.
Franjieh is trying to publicly disavow the label attached to him that he supports Syria and belongs to the resistance axis led by Iran. In media interviews in Lebanon, he claims that he will not be a "shadow president" and that he does not take orders from any party but acts from independent positions.
The Lebanese public is not buying the goods Franjieh is trying to sell. As things seem now, a lot depends on the question of what will be the final position of Saudi Arabia on the issue of the next president of Lebanon and whether Iran will be able to soften it.
The election of Franjieh will strengthen Iran's hegemony in Lebanon and the region, and, of course, this move is unsuitable for Israel and the United States.
Lebanon needs to achieve political stability, but it will become even more of a proxy for Iran, which will significantly influence the decision-making system in Lebanon.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.