Lebanese Parliament votes to extend army chief's term by a year

The tenure of Gen Joseph Aoun had been set to expire on January 10

Lebanese army chief General Joseph Aoun arrives at an operational command post in the eastern town of Ras Baalbek, on August 23, 2017, as troops are conducting an operation against the Islamic State (IS) group on the country's border with Syria. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER
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The term of Lebanon's army commander Gen Joseph Aoun has been extended by a year after a vote in parliament weeks before his tenure was set to expire.

Gen Aoun was due to retire on January 10 next year but the law, backed by a majority of MPs, delays the retirement age of the heads of Lebanon's security services – including the army – by a year, meaning Gen Aoun is able to serve for another 12 months.

In theory it ends fears of yet another potential vacuum at the top of a key Lebanese institution. The country has been without a president since October 2022, has a caretaker cabinet and acting heads of the central bank and General Security.

Normally the army's chief of staff would step into the top job on an interim basis in the event of a vacuum but that position has also remained vacant for a year.

The Council of Ministers seemed set to eventually discuss the issue – having dragged its feet for months – early on Friday afternoon but that meeting was scrapped until Tuesday afternoon when not enough ministers turned up.

While the war in Gaza and the Israel-Hezbollah cross-border clashes in southern Lebanon have dominated the headlines since October, perhaps no recent issue has been more of a talking point in the country than the army commander.

Some factions had been deeply opposed to extending the term of Gen Aoun, particularly the Free Patriotic Movement, one of the largest parliamentary parties. The FPM, founded by Lebanon's previous president Michel Aoun – not related to the general – has a significant number of ministers from or allied to the party, including Defence Minister Maurice Sleem.

Supporters of extending Gen Aoun's term had warned of the risk of military instability if a solution was not found, particularly given the precarious security situation in which Lebanon finds itself.

Influential Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said as the vote was about to take place that “if we do not do this work today, we risk a vacuum” at the top of the army, pointing to the expected slowdown in parliamentary business over Christmas.

The bill to extend Gen Aoun's term was tabled by the Lebanese Forces, parliament's largest party.

"Many things have gone wrong in the country, except for the army institution," said LF leader Samir Geagea.

"Our main concern is for the institution to remain stable and continuous, and this is what prompted us to proceed with the extension of the army commander."

While the president is normally responsible for appointing the army commander, in his or her absence, head of state powers fall to the cabinet. But the latter is severely stripped of its powers given its caretaker status, with some politicians arguing it should not be meeting at all.

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