Score another victory for Iran and the global Shi‘a movement: Lebanon has just elected a Shi‘a-friendly President. FT has the story:
Michel Aoun, who heads Lebanon’s largest Christian party, was elected by 83 out of 127 MPs, in a chaotic session not noted for its solemnity (one MP voted for Zorba the Greek, another for a local would-be Kim Kardashian). An 81-year-old former army chief known to his followers simply as Le General, Mr Aoun is a divisive figure in a country of 18 sects, especially among Christians. […]
Iran as well as Syria counts this Christian’s election a victory in the region-wide struggle of the Tehran-backed Shia Arab axis against the Sunni camp led by Saudi Arabia. Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, hailed “a great triumph for the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon [Hizbollah] and for Iran’s allies and friends”.
General Aoun has been a Shi‘a ally since at least 2005, when he returned from exile to make peace with Syria and Hezbollah after they assassinated the Sunni prime minister of Lebanon. With his election, Shi‘a forces are consolidating their hold on Lebanon. In a sign of Riyadh’s weakened leverage in the country, even Saad Hariri, the head of the Sunni Future party and a nominal ally of Saudi Arabai, voted for Aoun. (In return for the unlikely endorsement, Hariri became Prime Minister.)
Make no mistake: Iran is in charge and on the march, and the Shi‘a crescent is on the verge of becoming a reality. The Saudis have lately written off Lebanon as a lost cause given the influence of Hezbollah, and cut off funding to the Lebanese army in order to focus their efforts elsewhere. The latest news only confirms Iran’s improved standing in the country, and Saudi Arabai’s diminished one. Even Aoun’s main opponents are pro-Syrian, so Iran has a back-up plan if something goes wrong with their man in Beirut.
In the Sunni-Shi‘a battle for influence, the Shi‘a are ahead. Iranian rebels are making gains in Yemen and Syria, and now Lebanon has for all intents and purposes been captured by Shi‘a interests. Expect the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran to intensify as Riyadh seeks to push back.