Lebanese President Michel Aoun delivers a televised speech at the presidential palace in Baabda on February 26, 2020. Photo: Dalati and Nohra / AFP

Lebanese President Michel Aoun dropped a bombshell statement on Saturday night, telling French TV his country may be ready for peace with Israel.

Asked in an exclusive interview with France’s BFM television whether Lebanon was ready to make peace with Israel, he responded: “That depends. We have problems with Israel and we have to resolve them first.”

It was a shocking statement by a president whose rise has benefited from a more than decade-old alliance with Hezbollah, arguably the most powerful military force in the country.

Asked what he thought of the United Arab Emirates’ treaty concluded with Israel last Thursday, Aoun responded that the UAE “is an independent country.”

That suggested Aoun would not be held back from negotiations by any pan-Arab considerations.

The implicit invitation for diplomacy came as a rising tide of high-profile figures in Lebanon have accused Israel of the attack on Beirut Port – and Hezbollah for allegedly storing its weapons there and exposing the capital as a target.

It also followed stern words by US Undersecretary of State David Hale from the Beirut Port.

“Whatever happened specifically related to this explosion,” he said, “we can never go back to an era in which anything goes at the ports and borders of Lebanon.”

The explosion killed at least 178 people, including the wife of the Dutch ambassador, with dozens still missing and thousands wounded.

Hale departed from Beirut Friday night. US Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker, the point man for negotiations regarding the Israel-Lebanon maritime demarcation line, is expected to take up where Hale left off next week.

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Alison Tahmizian Meuse

Alison T Meuse is the Asia Times Middle East editor and correspondent.