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Lebanon crisis

Deteriorating Lebanon concerns US officials after army warns of ‘social explosion’

“I want to ask them [politicians], do you want an army or not? Do you want the army to remain on its feet or not?” Gen. Aoun asked.

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US officials are growing increasingly concerned over the deteriorating situation in Lebanon, with fears over a security incident rising and the country’s army chief warning of a social “explosion.”

Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government since last August and the country’s politicians remain at loggerheads over the formation of a new cabinet.

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The US State Department previously told Al Arabiya English that it was “closely” monitoring the situation in Lebanon while also calling for a credible government to be formed quickly.

However, as the situation continues to deteriorate and no solution appears imminent, skepticism is growing across the diplomatic arena.

“No one should expect the people [Lebanese officials] in charge of saving the situation to act any differently than they have for decades,” a Western diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al Arabiya English.

The political elite has been in power for years. Those who have stepped out of the political scene or died have been succeeded by their sons or other family members.

Despite this, the security situation has been calm for the most part with nationwide protests ongoing for the last week since the Lebanese pound dipped to record lows.

Army Commander General Joseph Aoun attends the official funeral ceremony for the Lebanese soldiers who were killed in ISIS captivity. (File Photo: Reuters)
Army Commander General Joseph Aoun attends the official funeral ceremony for the Lebanese soldiers who were killed in ISIS captivity. (File Photo: Reuters)

But comments made by the Lebanese Army chief on Monday were concerning.

“Soldiers are suffering and they’re hungry. To the country’s officials I ask, where are you going and what are you planning to do?” General Joseph Aoun said, during a speech at the army’s headquarters.

Gen. Aoun further criticized the country’s ruling elite as not caring about the army or “the suffering of members of the military.”

He also lashed out at continuous budget cuts for the army in the annual state budget. As the currency has lost almost 80 percent of its value compared to 2019, many soldiers are now earning what is equivalent to around $80 per month.

Ranking commanders and officers have seen their salaries become worth less than $500 per month. “I want to ask them [politicians], do you want an army or not? Do you want the army to remain on its feet or not?” Gen. Aoun asked.

Security sources told Al Arabiya English that there was a significant increase in the number of soldiers requesting to be furloughed in the next few months, while more senior commanders were demanding early retirement.

And as the morale of the army - seen as one of the key pillars of Lebanon’s stability over the years and a key US ally in the fight against terrorism - declines, the less likely they are to listen to the orders of the country’s rulers.

Aoun, the army chief, made this clear on Monday when he said “political smear campaigns” would not succeed and that he would not permit any interference in the army’s affairs.

Aram Nerguizian, a senior advisor at the Carnegie Middle East Center, warned that Lebanon “appears to have entered the unknown in terms of civil-military relations,” following the army general’s speech.

The Pentagon did not respond to Al Arabiya English’s request for comment.

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