Is Aoun plotting a repeat of his 1988 war of attrition mistake ?

File photo : President Michel Aoun holds a televised press conference at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut ( Nov, 20 , 20) . Aoun decided to default on the public debt payment in March ,2020 0 for the first time in Lebanon history which led to the collapse of the Lebanese financial system and the Lebanese currency REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
File photo : President Michel Aoun holds a televised press conference at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut ( Nov, 20 , 20) – on 14 March 1989 Aoun declared the war of attrition and On 13 October 1989 , the Syrian forces launched a decisive operation against Aoun, invading his strongholds including the Presidential Palace in Baabda and killing hundreds of Lebanese soldiers and civilians. Leaving his family behind , Aoun fled in his pajamas to the French Embassy in Beirut where he declared his surrender and was later granted asylum in France where he lived in exile for 15 years . He returned to Lebanon after the Syrian troops withdrew in 2005 . DALATI AND NOHRA/AFP

A Lebanese parliamentary source warned of a “trap” being set up by President Michel Aoun to transform the Supreme Defense Council into a new military government in an attempt to “save” his heir and son-in-law Jebran Bassil.

The source explained that Aoun is attempting to exploit the current political deadlock and ongoing coronavirus pandemic to declare the formation of a military government, similar to the one he headed in 1988 during the country’s 15-year civil war.

The military government would replace the current caretaker one headed by Premier Hassan Diab, who opposes the proposal, the source told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Aoun’s plan coincides with the “insistence” of Bassil’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) to drag the Progressive Socialist Party and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s Mustaqbal Movement towards a political dispute. Bassil would seek to exploit the dispute to bring forward the proposal to form a military government.

The source said that Aoun had relentlessly tried to use his position as head of the military cabinet to become president. He launched the “war of liberation” against Syrian military deployment in Lebanon and the “war of elimination” against the Lebanese Forces, headed by Samir Geagea, in order to control Christian regions.

He added, however, that Aoun misjudged the regional and international circumstances surrounding Lebanon at the time, which forced him to seek refuge at the French embassy. The Syrian regime later received the greenlight from the United States to eliminate Aoun’s role, prompting him to seek exile in France.

The source said that Aoun is again trying to repeat his experience from 1988 in order to “save” Bassil, whose popularity took a nosedive in wake of the 2019 popular protests and last year’s US sanctions against him.

He added that Aoun is exploiting his presidency of the Supreme Defense Council given that the caretaker government is not convening. The council, said the source, has proven to be ineffective in addressing Lebanon’s stifling economic crisis and surge in coronavirus cases.

Diab has refrained from convening the cabinet to allow Hariri the opportunity form a new government. Those efforts have, however, been met with Aoun’s pressure on Hariri to step down.

Major General Mahmoud Al-Asmar, Supreme Defense Council chief

The source stressed that the Supreme Defense Council cannot replace an effective government, whose formation is being hampered by Aoun, who already knows that his efforts to drive Hariri to resign will fail.

So what is the point of the president pursuing this line of action? wondered the source, noting that the Supreme Defense Council does not even enjoy any executive power to implement its recommendations.

He also questioned Hariri’s reasons for remaining silent and refraining from frankly addressing the Lebanese to explain the causes of the delay in the government formation.

The source said that Aoun is aware that his presidential term is a failure, even though his political entourage remains in denial and continues to extol his “achievements”. The president is seeking to embarrass Hariri to push him to either resign or yield to his conditions to “save” Bassil.

The source added that Aoun has gone so far as to stoke sectarian sentiments between the Druze PSP and Sunni Mustaqbal in order to divert attention from the government formation process.

The PSP and Mustaqbal are unlikely to fall for the trap because they will opt against giving Aoun an excuse to further exploit sectarian sentiments.

From a FPM standpoint, a sectarian division would embarrass Christian forces opposed to Aoun and Bassil and push Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai to abandon his call on the president and Hariri to reconcile in order to form a new cabinet.

As it stands, Aoun and Bassil find themselves isolated without any Christian support and are relying on the backing offered by their ally, Hezbollah, which in turn does not favor any sectarian dispute.

Significantly, the FPM is avoiding attacking Speaker Nabih Berri, a Shiite and ally of the fellow Shiite Hezbollah. An attack against the speaker, who supports Hariri’s stand, would reshuffle the cards in Lebanon and perhaps even pave the way for Hezbollah to review its calculations. The party would stand against any attack against its main ally to avoid any divisions within its main popular Shiite base.