Lebanese President Michel Aoun (D) and Prime Minister Saad Hariri at a Cabinet meeting on December 5, 2017, in Baabda, near Beirut
A month ago, Saudi Arabia forced its protégé Saad Hariri to resign in a shattering attempt to stem Iran’s influence in Lebanon. But the result was ultimately contrary to that expected.
Not only did Hariri retract on Tuesday, but Riyadh’s coup de force paradoxically pushed him – with his Lebanese rivals – to display an image of unity to avoid a new political earthquake in this traditionally divided country.
At the first cabinet meeting since the theater’s coup on 4 November, the camp led by the Hezbollah of Iran and the one led by Prime Minister Hariri reaffirmed their commitment to an – extremely improbable – „distancing“ from conflict of the region.
The Hariri affair, which has held Lebanese breath and foreign chancelleries, is in fact a direct consequence of the regional struggle – from Yemen to Syria – between the Saudi kingdom and the Islamic Republic.
In Lebanon, the Hezbollah Shiite is thus hated by Saudi Arabia, which considers it the Iranian arm in the country.
Photo obtained from the Saudi Royal Palace showing Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in an interview with King Salman on November 6, 2017 in Riyadh
However, since 2016, the armed movement has participated in the government of Saad Hariri, a long-time favorite child of Ryad.
– ‚We will punish Lebanon‘ –
According to a source close to Mr. Hariri, the Saudis, exhausted, were ready months ago to financially punish Lebanon, which relies on remittances from its diaspora and its banking sector.
„When Hariri went to Saudi Arabia (early November), he received a big shock,“ she says, referring to the circumstances of a resignation that surprised his advisers.
„He thought he was going to discuss economic plans, and he found himself facing a list of sanctions brandished (…) against Lebanon.“
Ryad threatened to „drive out 160,000 Lebanese from the Gulf, force businessmen to withdraw their investments from Lebanon … That would have been catastrophic“ for the country, the source said.
Biography of Saad Hariri
Saad „Hariri has found himself at the foot of the wall,“ said the source, saying that the Prime Minister himself had written his resignation announcement, but in a tone to please the Saudis.
„He was not a prisoner stricto sensu but he was told + if you come back to Lebanon, you will be considered as Hezbollah and your government as an enemy, you will punish Lebanon like Qatar +“.
By forcing Mr. Hariri to resign, „the Saudis wanted to mark their determination to postpone the Iranian breakthrough in the Levant,“ said Karim Bitar, of the Institute of International and Strategic Affairs of Paris (Iris). „But it has had a boomerang effect,“ he notes.
Today, „as fictitious, provisional and fragile as it is, this forced rapprochement between the two Lebanese camps is necessary and welcome, as the security and economic risks are real“, explains Mr. Bitar.
A French diplomatic source told AFP that Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince and strongman of Saudi Arabia, had „realized that he had gone too far“ and that the operation resulted in „a revival of (Saad) Hariri’s popularity „.
A miscalculation that caused a back pedal, under pressure from Paris and Washington.
But „the Saudis have not yet said their last word and remain determined to trim the wings of Tehran in the region,“ warns Karim Bitar.
– ‚Prince pressed‘ –
Photo obtained from the Royal Saudi Palace showing Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salmane and French President Emmanuel Macron on November 9, 2017 in Riyadh
At the heart of the Iran-Saudi Armory in Lebanon: Hezbollah, implicated in the war in Syria with the Assad regime and accused by Ryad of training Yemeni rebels in ballistic fire – one of these shots was intercepted by Saudi Arabia above Ryad … November 4th-.
„It is in Yemen that the Saudis are demanding concessions, demanding that Hezbollah withdraw its military advisers,“ Bitar said.
Ryad recently added pressure, saying there would be „no peace“ in Lebanon as long as Hezbollah kept its arsenal.
From this perspective, there is now a „reluctance of Saudi Arabia towards Hariri“. They „thought he would be able to counter Hezbollah, the opposite has happened,“ a Western diplomatic source said.
In „pressed prince“, Mohammed ben Salman „is not a sentimentalist,“ she notes.
According to Karim Bitar, even „the closest allies of Arabia in Lebanon fear that the Saudi intransigence is expensive for the Lebanese economy without weakening Hezbollah“.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri among his supporters after returning to Beirut on November 22, 2017
Sign of a desire to protect Lebanon, France, who played the role of the savior in „exfiltrant“ Mr. Hariri of Riyadh, organizes Friday a support meeting in the country, in the presence of the head of the American diplomacy Rex Tillerson.
But for Mr. Bitar, if the „Saudi bidding“ continues, it is feared that nothing can „protect Lebanon from this rise in perils on a regional scale“.