Thursday, 2 Dec 2021 - 28 of Kislev, 5782

Saudi move to withdraw from Lebanon, a game-changer ?

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Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minuster declared that dealing with Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon is “pointless.’’

Speaking in an interview on CNBC,  Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah Al Saud said: “There is a crisis in Lebanon with the dominance of Iranian proxies over the scene. This is what worries us and makes dealing with Lebanon pointless for the kingdom, and for, I think, Gulf countries.’’

Prince Faisal explained that Kordahi’s remarks underscore how “the political scene in Lebanon continues to be dominated by Hezbollah, a terrorist group, a group that by the way, arms and supplies and trains that Houthi militia.”

His comments came after Saudi Arabia decided to pull its ambassador from Lebanon last Friday in reaction to comments made by the Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi, who commented on the situation in Yemen by saying that the Houthis were “defending themselves … against an external aggression.” He called the Saudi-led military operation to subdue them “futile.”

Kordahi is close to the Christian Marada Movement, an ally of Hezbollah. Saudi Arabia called his comments “insulting.”

Riyadh was joined in its decision to withdraw its ambassador by other Gulf countries, including Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia also suspended all its imports from Lebanon.

The Saudis also froze the assets of the leading Iranian-Hezbollah financial institution and “benevolent society,” the Al-Qard al-Hassan, designating it as a terror organization. Al-Qard al-Hassan has been under U.S. sanctions since 2007.

Moreover, Saudi officials have accused Hezbollah of trying to change Lebanon’s Arab identity by striving to expand Iranian hegemony and adopting the Iranian Shi’ite theocracy.

The fact that Kordahi’s interview was given before he became a government member was ignored by the Saudis, who took note of the recent accusations by Hezbollah leaders that the kingdom maintains relations with the nationalist Christian Lebanese Forces and its chief commander, Samir Geagea. Furthermore, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan accused Hezbollah and Iran of being behind Kordahi’s declarations.

In addition, he pointed at Hezbollah’s involvement in the war in Yemen in tandem with the Houthis against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, under the instructions of Iran. “Lebanon needs a comprehensive reform that restores its sovereignty, strength and position in the Arab world,” Prince Faisal told Al Arabiya.

According  to Jacques Neriah, a special analyst for the Middle East at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, the Saudi and Gulf States’ move has shaken the political establishment in Lebanon and divided it into:

  • Those who demand the immediate resignation of the information minister (Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Maronite Archbishop Bechara al-Rahi);
  • Those who accuse Hezbollah of trying to draw Lebanon into Iran’s political hegemony (former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri);
  • Those who declare that Lebanon will not bow to Saudi Arabia at any cost (Suleiman Frangieh, head of the Marada Party, and members of Hezbollah).

France and the United States have intervened and asked Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati not to announce the resignation of his government, even though it has barely met since its establishment two months ago. It has been paralyzed by Hezbollah, which threatened to leave the government if Judge Tariq Bitar’s investigation into the deadly Beirut Port explosion of Aug. 4, 2020, is not called off.

Jacques Neriah noted that the Saudi move has serious implications for the Lebanese scene, which has witnessed three developments since October:

  1. The gun battle that erupted in Beirut’s Tayouneh neighborhood on Oct. 14, 2021, followed by the demand by Hezbollah that Samir Geagea and his Lebanese Forces’ role in the bloody events be investigated (a demand that, in true Lebanese style, had no follow-up).
  2. The withdrawal of Shi’ite ministers from the government as a protest, with the aim of pressuring the premier and the president to remove Judge Bitar from his investigation of the Beirut Port explosion.
  3. The Saudi diplomatic move, which has become the center of attention of Lebanon’s political establishment. The possible results of the Saudi move are such that it has eclipsed all earlier events; in Lebanon, it is considered a game-changer.

 

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