Lebanon is plagued with Saudi interests

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By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Up Front

Saudi Arabia has been accused once again of playing a political game in Lebanon. Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s role is believed to have been plausible in the recent resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri in a televised speech. Iran calls it a ‘rare form’ of foreign intervention.

Riyadh, somehow, happens to be perturbed about the current Lebanese crises, mostly because they enjoy an influence in the Sunni Lebanese community.

Saad Hariri is believed to have announced his resignation to safeguard any threats against his life. He had been fearful that he might suffer the same fate of his father, Rafiq Hariri, who died in a car bomb in 2005, believed to have been carried out by Shi’ite extremists. Although, the interior minister and the security forces are affirming that they are not aware of any such threats issued against Saad Hariri.

Lebanon has had a long history of being a proxy for Saudi political influences, as much as the Iranians have, post-Islamic Revolution in 1979. It has been believed that Hezbollah was formed on the insistence of Iran to tackle Israeli occupation of the Lebanese territory. The stances of Hezbollah have made them a target of Saudis, who in many ways, are helping to extend the Israeli and US foreign policy on Lebanese soil.

In many of Saad Hariri’s former speeches, he spoke against Iranian interests. His past speeches have been regarded as surrogate examples of Saudi politics. These realities have directly instigated Hezbollah, who are strong in the country’s south, enjoying power at certain levels, in the government, military and bureaucracy.

The Kingdom has followed an expansionist approach in war zones, including Syria, Yemen and a stern resistance to a recent trade embargo against Qatar. But now, the country has been facing several internal and external pressures, at a tumultuous time of proxy wars, which has made the whole Middle East a new ground for an international conflict.

Saudis want to push the regional balance of power towards them. They think that the current geopolitical scenario is strengthening Syrian President, Bashar Al Assad and its allies like Iran and the regional rival, Hezbollah. So they are seeking means to strengthen their dominance, including in the Levant.

Saudi Arabia, by every means, wants to be a pivotal force in the Middle East, by aiding individuals and groups who want to get aligned with their political postures. Lebanon happens to be one such place, where its former prime ministers have made fortunes by just aligning themselves with the Saudis. Some of them even went to have dual nationalities.

Saad Hariri, himself, has been involved in his high profile family-owned construction business dating back to 1970, which he closed just a year earlier. But nevertheless, the stock of money, which Hariri has left in Saudi Arabia, puts him on the leverage of Saudi interests, including political.

In history, Riyadh has gone further in cementing relationships not only with finances but also by offering marriages with senior Saudi princes in Lebanon’s Sunni dominated political lobby. The main goal had been to neutralise nationalist and leftist threats coming from Beirut by using the Sunni Lebanese leaders for their aims.

In a recent press report, the desperation of Houthi rebels was noted when they fired a long-range missile aimed at Riyadh International Airport, a day before Saad Hariri’s resignation, who is himself a dual Saudi-Lebanese national.

Saudis called the airport attack attempt a plot lead by Iran. The ruling of Crown Prince to convict the remaining political dissidents in his country was followed by this attack. This event had been camouflaged by Kingdom’s ‘anti-corruption purge.’

There is something about Lebanon’s political ethos. The quagmire runs deep. It is a country where Christians and Muslims live together but still have failed to realise a common vision for their homeland. The answer to this problem lies in the sectarian interests, often distinguished by ethnic and religious lines. Much of it has been credited to the Ta’if agreement drafted in 1989.

In the Senate, Christians and Muslims share equal power. Under the ruling ‘troika’, the President has to be a Maronite Christian, the speaker of the parliament a Shi’ite Muslim and Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim.

In the streets of Lebanon, montages of Saudi kings have been showcased in Sunni neighbourhoods, just like montages of Khomeini, Khamenei and other Iranian political figures that are decorated in Shi’ite neighbourhoods.

It seems that the bitterness between Beirut and Riyadh has escalated to a new level. Saudis, along with Kuwaitis and Emiratis, are insisting Lebanese nationals to leave their country. This has happened four times in five years. Iranians, on the other hand, have been loathing the Saudis, just because of their cordial relationship with the Israelis.

As Lebanon’s relationship with France goes back to colonial times, analysts are keeping their fingers crossed about the outcome of Macron’s recent visit to Riyadh that may have ameliorated tensions.

If any sort of conventional war happens, this fragile peace in the Levant will be blown to smithereens involving Palestinian and Syrian refugees, producing a new refugee problem on the radar towards the shores of Europe.

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