Summarizing the Saudi Lebanon Tensions

Summarizing the Saudi Lebanon Tensions

Saudi Arabia- Lebanon-Aditi Goel

 

Lebanon is not Yemen, and Saudi Arabia has no borders with the country.

 

It all began when Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri unexpectedly resigned on Nov 4, saying in a televised speech from Saudi Arabia that he feared for his life from assassination and accused Iran and its proxy Hizbollah of destabilising the country and the region and sowing strife in the Arab world. His father, a long-serving former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri, was killed by a bomb in 2005.

Mr Saad Hariri’s departure has sent shock waves across a region that is already facing increasing and heightened tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. President Michel Aoun refused to accept his resignation and politicians across the political spectrum claimed that his hand was forced by Saudi Arabia or he was under de-facto house arrest.

Saudi Arabia, denying that Mr Hariri was being held there against his will or that he had been forced to resign, accused Lebanon of declaring war against it. They advised their citizens not to visit Lebanon from any international destinations and those there to evacuate as soon as possible.

The Hizbollah chief, Hassan Nasrallah countered that it was Saudi Arabia that had declared war on Lebanon and his Iran-backed group, accusing Riyadh of detaining Saad al-Hariri and forcing him to resign as Lebanon’s prime minister to destabilise and disturb the country.

Hariri’s resignation has plunged Lebanon into a severe crisis, thrusting the small Arab country back to the forefront of regional rivalry between the Sunni Muslim monarchy that is Saudi Arabia and Shi‘ite revolutionary Iran.

Saad Hariri spent the previous week in a row of meetings with diplomats and Saudi officials in Riyadh, punctuated by a single trip to Abu Dhabi. He also attended a reception ceremony for Saudi King Salman who had come to Riyadh from the holy city of Medina.

In an interview with his party’s Future TV, Mr Hariri said he is free in Saudi Arabia, will return to Lebanon very soon and would be in Beirut in two or three days. He put aside rumours that he was under de facto house arrest in the kingdom of Saudi, from which he announced his surprise departure. He thought that they cannot continue in Lebanon, in a situation where Iran interferes with all the Arab countries, and there’s a political faction that is also interfering with it.

Amidst all rumours that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had pressured him to step down, Hariri said that he had ‘excellent’ ties with him.

 

Even before the resignation, analysts and officials in the region had been increasingly anxious and worried about what they saw as a volatile combination. An impulsive and youthful Saudi leader in Crown Prince Mohammed increasing threats to roll back growing Iranian influence and an equally impulsive Trump administration signalling enormous agreements with Saudi policies and pointed warnings from Israel that it may eventually fight another war with Hizbollah.

No one had expected Saudi Arabia, which is mired in a war in Yemen, to start another war itself.

Israel, which fought a war with Hizbollah in 2006, has been concerned about Hizbollah’s growing arsenal on its northern border. But yet, there are no signs of any war preparations in Israel. The country is not mobilising troops on its frail northern border or calling up reservists, and its leadership has given no indication as of now that a conflict is imminent.

Though many Israelis fear that the aggressive and extreme actions by the crown prince could drag Israel into a war it does not want and is uncalled for.

 

Israel’s war planners are predicting that the next war with Hizbollah may be catastrophic, particularly if it lasts more than a few days. Hizbollah has more than one lakh twenty thousand rockets and missiles, according to Israel estimates, which are enough to overwhelm Israeli missile defences.

As for the Hizbollah, it is still fighting in Syria, where it has been backing the government of President Bashar Assad, and it is being drained by medical costs for wounded fighters and survivor benefits for the families of those killed.

 

It’s not necessarily right or appropriate to say that Saudi Arabia and Lebanon have a tense relationship. Lebanon doesn’t have a unified foreign policy, as it doesn’t have a unitary government. That befogs the sense of brewing conflict between the two countries as independent states.

 

Referring to the Shiite political and military organisation that the Trump administration recently warned was aiming to attack the United States, it can be said that Iran has a major foothold in Lebanon through Hezbollah. For very long, Saudi Arabia worked to balance Iran in Lebanon through its support of the Hariris.

But over the course of the last several years, the Saudis pulled back on engaging in Lebanon. They cut off aid for a period of time and left Lebanon without a government for two years and Saad Hariri was left out in the cold. Hariri then struck a deal with Hezbollah to return to power, leading Saudi Arabia to ask him to resign.

Hariri was pulled out of the government so it could be said that this government is controlled by Hezbollah. They wanted to pick a fight but had no leverage. Tensions with Iran and Iran’s proxy in Lebanon were raising. The state of the current war can be described as rhetorical.

 

Hariri has been mum since his resignation, and only seen rarely, leading to rumours he was under house arrest in Saudi Arabia, where he was born and now appears to be staying. However, according to Hariri’s own Future Movement party, he has met with the French, US, EU and UK ambassadors to Saudi Arabia.

 

The recent brewing conflict between Riyadh and Beirut involves the role of Hezbollah in Lebanese politics. In the last 10 years, Hezbollah has grown in strength in Lebanon to become the main power broker, holding the country hostage to its political whims and fancies. There was evidence enough for this in the struggle for the presidency that left the post open for more than two years until the Hezbollah ally Michel Aoun was elected as President in October 2016.

Israel doesn’t work for Saudi and would not attack Lebanon unless the Hezbollah started a war, which it wouldn’t, Israel would launch a quick, decisive war.

Withdrawal of Saudi citizens from Lebanon is part of a large decline and reduction in the number of Saudis visiting the country.

Thamer al-Sabhan, the minister for Gulf affairs, warned that Lebanon was to be dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia.

 

France was the first Western country that said that Saudi Arabia was holding Hariri against his will and it wished for him to have all his freedom of movement and be fully able to play the essential role that is held in Lebanon.

Riyadh stated that Hariri is a free man and he decided to resign because Hezbollah was placing the deciding factor in his government. Saudi Arabia considers Hezbollah to be its rival in conflicts across the Middle East, that includes Syria and Yemen.

Western countries have been utterly surprised at the rising regional tension.

U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson warned others against using Lebanon as a tool for a larger proxy fight in the Middle East, stating that Washington, the USA capital, was strongly backing Lebanon’s independence and respected Hariri as a strong ally of the United States, still referring to him as prime minister.

He also said that there was no indication that Hariri was held in Saudi Arabia against his will, but the United States was monitoring the situation.

 

Hariri’s resignation is being seen as part of a Saudi attempt to counter Iran as its influence deepens in Syria and Iraq and as Riyadh and its allies battle Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen.

A political deal was unravelled among rival factions that made him

The coalition government included Hezbollah, a heavily armed military and political organisation of Lebanon.

 

An “international support group” was formed of countries concerned about Lebanon, that includes the United States, Russia and France, appealed for Lebanon to continue to be shielded from tensions in the region. They supported Aoun’s call for Hariri to return.

A top Lebanese Druze politician Jumblatt said Lebanon did not deserve to be accused of declaring war on Saudi Arabia as they have been friends and allies for decades and are a country that is squeezed between two antagonistic interests, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The majority of Lebanese people are just paying the price and suffering as Lebanon can not afford to declare a war against anybody.

Hezbollah was accused by the Saudi foreign minister of a role in the launching of a ballistic missile at Riyadh from Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Iran’s supply of rockets to militias in Yemen was an act of “direct military aggression” that could amount to be an act of war.

Saudi accusation was mocked at by Nasrallah saying that Iran and Hezbollah were behind the firing of the missile from Yemen, and Yemenis were capable of building their own missiles.

This long-simmering rivalry threatens to boil over, with Lebanon caught in the crosshairs.

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