The Lebanese-Saudi crisis worsens, with no solution in sight

Yemenis walk past a billboard depicting Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi amid a Houthi campaign supporting Kordahi against the policies of the Gulf states, on a street in Sana’a, Yemen, on October 31. Photo by Yahya Arhab / EPA-EFT

BEIRUT, Lebanon, November 24 (UPI) – Lebanon’s emerging crisis with Saudi Arabia and some Gulf countries is worsening, without enough internal efforts or Arab mediation in sight to help resolve it, diplomatic and political sources have said. .

The Saudi decision of October 29 to expel the Lebanese ambassador and ban his imports remains in place as more punitive measures are to be feared. The measures came as an angry reaction to critical comments by Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi regarding the Saudi military intervention in Yemen.

Three Gulf Arab countries – Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates – quickly sided with Riyadh, recalling their ambassadors from Beirut and asking Lebanese emissaries to leave.

The diplomatic row has come at the worst time for Lebanon, which is grappling with one of the world’s most dire economic crises and relying on its rich traditional Gulf supporters to save it.

By calling Yemen’s seven-year war “futile” and supporting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels to defend themselves against “external aggression,” Kordahi has unleashed growing Saudi anger against his former protégé.

At the heart of the problem is the growing influence and dominance of Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, heavily armed Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia-Lebanon relations have grown strained in recent years amid harsh criticism and insulting remarks repeatedly made by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah against Saudi leaders, Riyadh’s growing concerns over the Lebanon moving away from its Arab arena and adopting the positions of Hezbollah and continuing drug trafficking from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

“The Saudis were fed up and said enough is enough,” a well-informed political source told UPI, who requested anonymity. “What is needed is to ease the tension, but nothing is done: no initiative or practical ideas [by Lebanese officials] … just talk and wish, but no action. “

While Kordahi’s resignation and Lebanon’s official apology would not be enough to resolve the crisis, it could help pave the way for a solution.

However, the Lebanese Minister of Information, backed by a firm stance from Hezbollah, has so far refused to resign, arguing that he had done nothing wrong in making his remarks on Yemen which were recorded in August – a month before he was appointed minister in the new cabinet – and released in October.

“Kordahi’s resignation is necessary, but not sufficient. What is needed is to stop adopting certain policies. Since Hezbollah is represented in government, it should at least stop insulting friendly countries. ..) This is unacceptable, ”the political source said. “What the Gulf countries want is a minimum of political behavior from Hezbollah (…) and that is not happening”.

The Lebanese leadership’s efforts to resolve the crisis have failed due to disagreement and the inability to offer an appropriate outcome. Even the Arab League, which sent its deputy leader Hossam Zakito to Beirut on November 8 for talks with Lebanese officials to end the diplomatic feud, has failed to continue its reconciliation efforts.

Lebanon could now count on Kuwait, due to the deep-rooted historical ties between the two countries, to change its position and help mend barriers with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries.

A Lebanese diplomatic source said if Saudi Arabia and Bahrain take a tough stance on Hezbollah, Kuwait, which has not banned imports from Lebanon, could be more lenient.

“In the event that Kordahi resigns and Lebanon apologizes, Kuwait would be expected to change its position,” the diplomatic source told UPI. “We are counting on Kuwait to lead the way, bridge the gap and reconcile Lebanon with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf allies. But Lebanon must give something for them to do something.”

However, what the Saudis would ultimately want is to reduce the influence of Hezbollah and Iran on Lebanon – something the Lebanese themselves cannot do.

Brig. General Hisham Jaber, head of the Center for Middle East Studies and Public Relations, distinguished between such influence and the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons.

“Let’s be logical. They are two different problems. Hezbollah and its Shiite movement ally Amal undoubtedly have an active presence in Lebanon and can obstruct the government, but I don’t think they dominate Lebanon. Do they control the army, the central bank and all the ministers? No, ”Jaber told UPI.

He noted, however, that Hezbollah’s weapons are a “subject of controversy” among the Lebanese, arguing that half of them do not agree to the Iran-backed group retaining its weapons and using them in internal battles. .

“If Hezbollah uses its weapons to open a war against Israel, 80% of the Lebanese people will be against such action because we do not want a war in Lebanon and do not need to destroy the country”, a- he declared.

“But when Hezbollah has missiles that deter Israel, it’s okay because we don’t have a strong army or a defense system that could deter the Israeli Air Force.”

Last month, the Hezbollah leader revealed that his group, with an arsenal estimated at 130,000 rockets and missiles, has 100,000 trained fighters.

“To disarm Hezbollah, we need a strong army and friendly states to give us a defense system just to protect the airspace of Lebanon,” Jaber said, adding that the Lebanese leadership did not No defense strategy has yet been developed whereby Hezbollah would be absorbed into the military as a paramilitary force.

As Hezbollah strengthens itself as a regional player after its intervention in the Syrian and Yemeni wars, only a settlement based on Iran-US negotiations that “changes the political equation in the region” could solve the problem. his weapons.

“Any strategic or regional action by Hezbollah cannot be taken without Iran’s approval,” Jaber said. “Saudi Arabia is angry with Lebanon and considers Hezbollah an enemy for influencing the Houthi rebels in Yemen. It is true, but we cannot fight Hezbollah because it would lead to a civil war.”

With Hezbollah’s popularity – like most political parties – on the decline since the party opposed the popular uprising that erupted in October 2019 to oust the country’s corrupt rulers, Jaber said “the only solution is the next general elections which could lead to a new parliament which represents at least 70% of the Lebanese and through an independent judiciary. ”

“This is unlikely to happen,” he concluded.

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