BEIRUT — To mark the 23rd anniversary of South Lebanon's liberation from Israeli occupation, Lebanese Army Commander-In-Chief General Joseph Aoun said Wednesday that "defense and control of [our] borders is the top priority of the military institution."
In a communiqué issued Wednesday evening, Aoun insisted that stability is an "essential condition for economic recovery."
His remarks came days after Hezbollah staged its largest military exercises in South Lebanon in several years, unveiling heavy weapons and simulating attacks against Israel. The maneuvers provoked strong reactions on the local political scene, especially from Christian parties.
In a Wednesday speech, Aoun said he remembers "the historic victory of the Lebanese against the Israeli enemy."
"We are committed to continuing our mission, especially on the southern border, in coordination with the UN Interim Force according to resolution 1701," he said.
"We emphasize our right to resist the Israeli enemy and its violations of Lebanese sovereignty and to recover all our territories."
"Preserving security and stability in Lebanon, defending it and controlling its borders is the top priority of the military institution," he continued. "This stability is an essential condition for economic recovery and the [good] work of institutions."
In his speech addressing military members, whose working conditions have deteriorated considerably since the onset of the economic crisis, Aoun said: "It could not have been established without your sacrifices."
'Deterrent messages' to Israel
Hezbollah issued a Wednesday statement saying Resistance Day is an opportunity to celebrate "national unity as well as the Lebanese and Arab recovery against the Zionists."
"The Resistance has lately sent messages through the exercises and maneuvers carried out in front of various media. New and intelligent deterrent messages have been sent to the enemy who is in a mess that has eaten away its deterrence capabilities," Hezbollah added. "The worsening of the situation should make [the enemy] afraid to commit any foolishness against Lebanon."
Also speaking to mark Resistance Day, the Amal Movement issued a statement calling for remembrance of "what granted the Lebanese to win, including the unity of speech and position."
The statement also stressed the need to "fight against any internal or external will to drown Lebanon or to make it fall from within the vicious circle of emptiness or via the blockage."
The Lebanese Forces, Kataeb reactions
Several political parties criticized Hezbollah's show of force in the south.
The Lebanese Forces (LF) said Wednesday that the military exercises were "in contradiction" with the declaration of the Jeddah Summit, which expressed "the total refusal of any support to armed groups and militias."
"The strategic decision, as well as the foreign and defense policy, is exclusively the prerogative of the state and the government that participated in the Arab League summit," said the party.
According to party leader Samir Geagea, "Hezbollah's military exercises took place against the will of the government and undermined the presence of the latter, its honesty and its Arab and international commitment."
The Lebanese Forces called on the "government to assume its responsibilities and to commit to its dedications regarding the decisions taken at the Arab League summit and towards the Lebanese in order to prevent Lebanon from slipping into absurd and destructive risks."
A similar opinion was expressed by the Kataeb party, which said it felt Hezbollah's military parade aimed to "send a message to those who think they can get out of its grip."
In a statement, Kataeb said Hezbollah wants to make it known that it "has the last word, that sovereign decisions depend on its will, and that it alone has the right to negotiate with Israel on its terms."
For Kataeb, these military maneuvers "did not target Israel but Beirut first and the presidential palace in Baabda second."
"The aim is to say that there will be no president who does not comply with Hezbollah's will and that decisions cannot be taken without the approval" of the Iran-backed party.