BEIRUT: An emergency meeting by the Lebanese caretaker Cabinet on Thursday failed to extend the term of Lebanese Armed Forces Commander Joseph Aoun, whose mandate ends in 55 days.
Aoun is also a possible presidential candidate.
A fresh political statement is expected to be released as the military situation remains tense on Lebanon’s southern border with Israel.
Hezbollah has targeted Israeli sites, including the Misgav Am, Bayad Blida, Metula, Asi, and Harmon areas, as well as the Yiftah barracks.
The group also targeted an Israeli ground force gathering on Karantina hill near the Hadab Yaron site with “appropriate weapons and achieved direct hits.”
Israeli forces responded with aerial bombardment of Lebanese border villages, towns, plains and forests using phosphorus missiles.
The proposal to extend Aoun’s term suggested delaying the dismissal age by either one year, six months or until the election of a new president.
Acting Information Minister Abbas Halabi said the cabinet decided that the extension terms required additional discussion so that a solution could be reached by all parties.
It was also agreed that military leadership should not be left vacant and that the “mission of the army commander must continue,” he added.
Political analysts said that the year-long presidential vacuum in Lebanon is likely to hinder the appointment of a new army commander, which technically requires an elected president and cabinet.
The Lebanese ruling class is seeking solutions to the problem that resolve differences between the country’s political parties.
The vacuum in military leadership is the latest setback to affect Lebanon, with the country also lacking a central bank governor and president. Maronite Christians have traditionally held all three positions.
Lebanese security, judicial work and diplomacy has slowed amid the lack of leadership.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati warned that “internal unity” must be protected amid the escalation on Lebanon’s southern border and “the repercussions of the Gaza war.”
Unity is needed to “avoid fatal collapses in Lebanon,” he added.
Mikati criticized “some people’s attempt to drag the Cabinet again into discussions that are constitutional and political on the outside, but disruptive and vengeful on the inside.”
He said: “We are keen on moving forward with our work. The Cabinet works based on what it deems convenient, not according to the agendas some try to impose to overshadow major electoral events in this critical phase.”
Mikati added: “Any decision we will make regarding any looming electoral event will stem primarily from the country’s interest and the priority to protect the institutions in this critical stage.
“The cabinet will certainly not be a field used by those who want to settle personal scores and individual disputes at the expense of public interest.”
One political observer told Arab News that removing Aoun’s proposed extension from discussion aimed to prevent immediate rifts within the cabinet, after Christian members failed to reach a consensus.
But calls have grown in recent days to end the military leadership vacuum before holidays begin.
The Free Patriotic Movement has rejected the Aoun extension proposal, insisting on exclusive appointments.
And several Sunni MPs and personalities have demanded to choose a new Internal Security Forces chief — a position that will be left vacant after Maj. Gen. Imad Othman retires.
Representatives of the National Moderation bloc proposed a law a few days ago to postpone the retirement of Lebanon’s security chiefs by one year. The law is also supported by the Lebanese Forces and Progressive Socialist blocs.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri — an ally of Hezbollah — said he was ready to cooperate and hold a legislative session next month “to ensure the institutional vacuum is avoided.”
The Political Council of the Free Patriotic Movement — headed by MP Gebran Bassil — described efforts to extend Aoun’s term as “a programmed, intimidating political and media campaign with political goals.”
It claimed there was “no possibility” of a vacuum occurring in military leadership.
The FPM council said: “The right to command according to the rank is what rules, even during war. So, why resort to unconstitutional and illegal solutions that would lead to appeal?”
Bassil strongly opposes Aoun’s nomination for Lebanon’s presidency.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah has remained silent over the military leadership vacancy despite its political alliance with the Free Patriotic Movement.
Extending Aoun’s term requires securing a quorum for cabinet or a quorum for parliament, meaning the support of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and its allies is necessary for the proposal to be approved.