Aoun's Last Gambit?
By Alan Hafeza, -Ya Libnan

January, 28, 2007

Michel Aoun appears to have concluded that the only way to achieve his life-long ambition of reaching the presidency of Lebanon is through intimidation, fear tactics, and flat out terrorism.

His relevance within the opposition movement is in doubt due to the decline of his popularity amongst fellow Maronite Christians. He desperately feels he must deliver a strong show to rescue his credibility as a national Christian leader and as a relevant member of the opposition.

With Hezbollah, he has a symbiotic relationship: Hezbollah needed a credible Christian cover in its struggle to transform the Lebanese political landscape to something that suits its hidden goals. Nasrallah said in a speech last week that the battle he wages is for the future of Lebanon and its future generations. An utterly scary proposition for those who disagree with his vision.

The shenanigans on the streets of Beirut this week are not about ten or eleven government ministers... or the so-called “disruptive-third” to control the current government. It is about much more: the Persian Shi'ite Crescent, extending from Iran, through Iraq, winding through Syria opening a window on the Eastern Mediterranean through Lebanon. Nasrallah knows well that such a battle cannot be waged successfully without a Christian cover, which Aoun appeared more than willing to provide.

On the other side, Aoun needed Hezbollah to shake the status quo, which deprived him of any realistic chances of reaching his supposed manifest destiny. Although he exceeded expectations in the last parliamentary elections, he did not muster enough seats in the parliament, and could not form any alliances to enable him to win the presidency. His pasthostilities with other Christian leaders, his temperamental, antagonistic style which is described as narcissistic and at times megalomaniac, did not help either. Thus, Aoun concluded that by teaming with Hezbollah and Syria, he will force the March 14th forces to forego their own presidential candidates in his favor. He had bet that the Syrian/Hezbollah influence would ultimately win in Lebanon, giving him the keys to Baabda. But when the March 14th group didn’t budge, and his popularity plummeted from this unnatural alliance, he decided his only path is to up the stakes and force the Christians to rally behind him through brute intimidation tactics.

Hezbollah needed Aoun, and Aoun needed Hezbollah. They get a Christian voice, and he gets the force of coercion and intimidation Hezbollah provides. It is interesting to note that Hezbollah has had little or no common doctrine with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), which Aoun leads.

The FPM was seemingly pro-independence, anti-Syrian, anti-corruption, and pro-reforms, while Hezbollah is a religious party that even grudgingly acknowledges the concept of Lebanon. An extreme party, whose leader has apparently stated in the 80’s that the Shiaa should live in Jbeil, Kiserwan and other Christian areas since they were there first. Hezbollah is the spearhead of the Iranian struggle with the United States, and the front of the Persian crescent in Lebanon.

Yet, Aoun and Hezbollah collaborated in an effort to oust the government, a goal that may not be the ultimate objective of either of them, but is certainly a stepping stone for their diverse aspirations. However, for Aoun, there is a major problem in this alliance: the ultimate goals of the FPM and Hezbollah are mutually exclusive. The historical goals of the FPM are diametrically opposite from Hezbollah’s. Even the most diehard fervent FPM supporters have a difficult time explaining this partnership. All of the sudden, Aoun is a Syrian friend, he’s been proposed for presidency by Emile Lahoud, the extended pro-Syrian president. Disillusioned, FPM members left the party in droves.

Hezbollah isn’t particularly enamored with Aoun. He has always been unpredictable and perhaps unstable. With Aoun’s popularity waning, Hezbollah does not feel obliged to treat him as an equal partner, certainly not on strategic matters.

Aoun is left with the predicament of not having a strong base, not delivering what he promised his benefactor. He has no substantial command over the Christian street, and certainly not to the degree Samir Geagea, Amin Gemayel, and other March 14th leaders do. He knows that if left to their own devices, the Christians in Lebanon do not support his calls for a strike, which was glaringly clear during the day of “divine vandalism” Lebanon experienced this week. Aoun (and Hezbollah) cannot win by democratic means. They just don’t have the numbers.

Aoun (and Hezbollah) cannot win by violence, even if they succeed in closing roads, preventing people from reaching their workplaces. The March 14th forces view this struggle as pivotal in the history of Lebanon and are steadfast.

There are two alternatives left to Aoun: Put Lebanon first, giving up on his dream for presidency and stop supporting Hezbollah; or, escalate even more, creating more violence and more bloodshed risking civil war.Aoun has already justified bloodshed in his own mind as a “necessary surgery” for the benefit of Lebanon. Aoun’s history, I’m afraid, is not reassuring!