Wednesday 21 August 2019

Lebanon jibes Saudis over the missing PM

Syrian peace means regional and global powers will circle to realign power, says Bassem Mroue

Controversy: In this photo provided by the Saudi Press Agency, Saudi King Salman, right, meets with the recently resigned Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri in Saudi Arabia last Monday. Photo: AP
Controversy: In this photo provided by the Saudi Press Agency, Saudi King Salman, right, meets with the recently resigned Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri in Saudi Arabia last Monday. Photo: AP

Bassem Mroue

Lebanon's president yesterday called on Saudi Arabia to clarify the reasons why the country's prime minister has not returned home since his resignation last week, which was announced from the kingdom.

The move came as the United States and France expressed their support for Lebanon's sovereignty and stability amid heightening tensions between Beirut and Saudi Arabia.

A political crisis has gripped Lebanon and shattered the relative peace maintained by its coalition government since Prime Minister Saad Hariri's stunning announcement on November 4 - made from the Saudi capital - that he was resigning.

Lebanese officials have insisted on the return home of Hariri from Saudi Arabia amid rumours he is being held against his will.

Saudi officials have said that their measures against Lebanon are in response to the militant Hezbollah group's support of anti-Saudi rebels in Yemen known as Houthis.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun called on Saudi Arabia to clarify why Hariri has not returned home since announcing his resignation, saying that "the obscurity regarding Hariri's conditions means what he says does not reflect the truth".

It was an indication that Aoun does not recognise Hariri's resignation.

President Aoun said in a statement from his office that any stance or move by Hariri "is the result of the dubious and mysterious situation that he is living in the kingdom".

In statements released by his office, Aoun called on Saudi Arabia "that is linked to us through deep brotherly and friendly relations to clarify the reasons that are preventing" Hariri returning to Lebanon.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that Washington calls upon "all states and parties to respect Lebanon's sovereignty, independence, and constitutional processes".

The Saudi Minister for Gulf Affairs warned earlier this month that his government would deal with Lebanon as a hostile state as long as Hezbollah was in the Lebanese government.

The Lebanese unity government that Hariri formed a year ago includes Hezbollah members - the result of a tacit Saudi-Iranian agreement to sideline Lebanon from the other proxy wars in the region

"In this sensitive time, the US also rejects any efforts by militias within Lebanon or by any foreign forces to threaten Lebanon's stability, undermine Lebanese government institutions, or use Lebanon as a base from which to threaten others in the region," Ms Sanders said. She was apparently referring to Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia.

She described Hariri as "a trusted partner of the US in strengthening Lebanese institutions, fighting terrorism, and protecting refugees", adding that the Lebanese army and security forces are the only legitimate forces in Lebanon.

Also yesterday, Lebanon's state-run National News Agency reported that French president Emmanuel Macron called president Aoun expressing France's commitment to Lebanon's "unity, sovereignty and independence and to help it in preserving political and security stability".

The latest political earthquake in Saudi Arabia has led to much speculation over the future of the kingdom and the Gulf Arab states.

But most analyses have ignored the far bigger issue looming over the region's upheavals - prospects for a military confrontation between the US and Iran are rapidly escalating.

Just as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was consolidating absolute power last weekend - cracking down on the last royal relatives, billionaire investors, Wahhabi clerics and rights advocates who posed a threat to his reign - the kingdom announced it was holding Iran responsible for a missile attack on Riyadh by Yemen's Houthi rebels. The group has ties to Tehran, but Saudi claims remain unsubstantiated.

The abrupt resignation of Hariri - a close Saudi ally - while on a visit to Riyadh, citing fears of an Iranian attempt on his life, indicates how Lebanon is increasingly becoming a flashpoint in the cold war between Tehran and Riyadh. The Lebanese army and Iran's ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, deny any plot against Hariri.

If Saudi Arabia forces a showdown with Iran, the US would find itself in the middle. Statements by Donald Trump and his national security team point to a more aggressive US posture toward Tehran.



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