Lebanese Defense Minister Samir Moqbel said he would extend the term of Army Chief General Jean Kahwaji (photo), avoiding a vacuum at the head of the military, whose leadership has been a subject of political dispute.
“It isn’t possible or logical, and nobody could accept it, that the military establishment and the army continue without a leader,” Moqbel said in a statement shown on live television.
Lebanon faces a domestic political crisis that has prevented it from choosing a president for more than two years as its army and security forces confront a militant threat stemming from the five-year civil war in neighboring Syria.
The decision to extend Kahwaji’s term heading the army, seen as a rare neutral institution in a country beset by sectarian divisions, was supposed to have been made by the cabinet, but it failed to convene because of the political crisis.
Leadership of the military is one of the biggest disputes among Lebanon's rival parties, a disagreement that contributed to the boycott of a parliament session on Wednesday by most of its members, and prevented the cabinet from meeting.
Moqbel said his decision could be overturned at any time by the cabinet. Kahwaji was appointed Army Commander by the cabinet in 2008 and his term has been extended twice before.
Kahwaji joined the Lebanese Army in 1973. He trained abroad, especially in the United States and Italy. He also underwent anti-terrorism training in Germany in 2006, as well as in Italy. He headed the Army’s 12th Infantry Brigade since 2002. He also went to the Swedish military school in Boden Garrison in Sweden for terrain warfare during the 1990s.
On 30 August 2008, the Lebanese government appointed Brigadier-General Jean Kahwaji to be Chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces, replacing Michel Suleiman, who became President of Lebanon in May 2008.