France appointed former foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as French President Emmanuel Macron’s personal envoy for Lebanon, according to a report in the AFP on Wednesday. This move comes as Lebanon is still in a political crisis and lacks a president. Hezbollah, backed by Iran, generally tries to control who will become president even though Hezbollah has only a handful of seats in parliament.
According to the AFP report the former foreign minister is supposed to help find a consensus that would lead to an efficient solution to the crisis.
Former president Michel Aoun’s term expired in October 2022
Meanwhile, Aoun went to Damascus on Tuesday, for a meeting with Syria's President Bashar Al Assad. This is the first trip to Damascus in years for Aoun. According to a report at Arab News “Aoun's media office issued a statement amid speculation that the founder of the Free Patriotic Movement was seeking Al Assad's intervention in the Lebanese presidential election amid differences with its ally Hezbollah over the choice of candidates. Both the FPM [Free Patriotic Movement] and the Iran-backed Hezbollah group are aligned with Syria.”
Aoun said that he was not seeking Assad’s mediation in the crisis in Lebanon. Syria’s regime occupied Lebanon for thirty years, leaving only in 2005 after Hezbollah was alleged to have assassinated former Lebanese President Rafic Hariri.
According to the Arab News report “Hezbollah backs Suleiman Frangieh, leader of the Christian Marada Movement and known to be close to Damascus. But the FPM has categorically refused to support Mr Frangieh, allying with opposition parties to back former finance minister Jihad Azour.”
The two moves, by France and Aoun illustrate how seriously countries are beginning to take the crisis in Lebanon. The power vacuum is not helpful for stability in the region. Iran gains more leverage and Hezbollah can operate as it wants, even beyond what it normally does.