Lebanon's top church official reprimanded the country’s political elite on Wednesday, calling on them to pledge allegiance to Lebanon first and foremost as he indirectly criticized the Iran-backed Hezbollah for its participation in neighboring wars.
“Being neutral means committing to common Arab causes, without taking part in political or military conflicts,” Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai said after meeting President Michel Aoun.
Days after he criticized Hezbollah and its allies for isolating Lebanon from its “brothers and friends,” Rai told Aoun that all Lebanese sides should pledge allegiance to Lebanon.
Rai indirectly spoke out against Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement during two consecutive church sermons last week and the week before, calling for Lebanon to implement the dissociation policy.
On Wednesday, Rai met with Aoun and the two reportedly discussed the dissociation policy and need for Lebanon to distance itself from regional and international axes.
Hezbollah has openly participated in the Syrian war alongside the Assad regime in the yearslong war and has military advisers and commanders present in Iraq and Yemen working with Shia proxies and militias.
But Rai was quick to add that Israel was not an issue Lebanon would or should agree on with the international community.
Being neutral also means having a “strong state and a strong army,” Rai added.
Asked if he was speaking directly about Hezbollah, he said: “On the contrary, I told the president I mean everyone.”
US Secretary of State Pompeo said Wednesday that the Lebanese people wanted a government that was responsive to the people and “not subject to influence from designated terrorist group Hezbollah.”
“They want basic economic activity restored, they want taxes to be collected in a fair way,” Pompeo said during a briefing with journalists.
The top US diplomat said that when a Lebanese government “shows up that will do that and do that well, I am very confident that countries from all across the world and the [International Monetary Fund] will show up to provide them with the financing they need to execute a reform plan.”
Washington’s position on Lebanon has been “pretty clear and is bipartisan.”
Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government has failed to implement reforms demanded by the international community and the IMF in order to unlock economic and financial aid. Diab previously said that his government had fulfilled “97 percent” of its goals.
He formed a government, purely made up of Hezbollah and its allies at the beginning of the year.