Alvin Bayle and Henry Kincaid-
The relationship between Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Iran has been growing increasingly murky and troublesome over the past month, with this last week seeing some major changes in Saudi and Lebanese politics.
With a number of conflicts in the Middle East appearing to reach their final phase, we are now increasingly seeing other cultural and political disagreements flaring up, with a number of them involving the internal and external affairs of two of the most influential and important regional superpowers of the Middle East: Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Saad al-Hariri, Lebanese Prime Minister and long-time ally of Saudi Arabia, announced his resignation during his stay in Riyadh last Saturday. Details of Hariri’s appearance are still unknown. This led Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, to accuse Saudi Arabia of detaining the Lebanese Prime Minister and forbidding him from returning to Lebanon.
Reports from the Lebanese government officials indicate that Hariri is currently being held against his free will. This is viewed as an attempt to combat Iran’s influence in Syria and Iraq by Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia responded to the leader of Hezbollah by stating that they are not forcefully detaining Hariri and that he is free to leave whenever he wishes. In addition, they claimed that Hariri resigned because of Hezbollah’s control over government actions in Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia considers Hezbollah an enemy due to their involvement in conflicts around the Middle East. The rumors of Hariri’s captivity only further the tension between the two.
Hariri has yet to make any public appearances on the reason for his resignation. It was also suggested that he is now fearing an assassination attempt after accusing Hezbollah of pulling strings in the Lebanese government.
Nasrallah suggests that this detainment is a declaration of war on Lebanon and on Hezbollah in Lebanon.
For the meantime, Saudi and other Gulf states have warned their citizens about traveling to Lebanon.
What Will Happen Now?-
With Saudi’s new leadership, headed by the ambitious King Salman, the dominant southern state is currently amid a drastic and comprehensive shakeup of what appears to be its entire political structure. Economic reforms, bureaucratic purges of allegedly corrupt officials, and cultural upheavals have been just some of the many changes the new administration has enforced.
Saudi’s involvement in general Middle Eastern politics has also become more overt, and their embroilment with the resignation of the former Lebanese Prime Minister is but just one, albeit seemingly important example of this more outwards push from the Saudi government.
International attention is aimed at Saudi Arabia, with both the United States and France calling for a more informative statement to be issued regarding Hariri’s current condition.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the Press Secretary for the White House, recently made this comment: “all states and parties to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence, and constitutional processes,” and that “In this sensitive time, the United States 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”.
Sanders called Hariri a “trusted partner of the United States in strengthening Lebanese institutions, fighting terrorism, and protecting refugees.”
It was not just Lebanon’s politics that took a downwards turn last week, but its economy too. The crisis has reportedly stalled a $21 billion plan to reinvest into Lebanese infrastructure, which, in turn, could slow down the oil sector and undo years worth of work that was pushing to repair the Lebanese economy.
Iran and Saudi Arabia’s relationship has been deteriorating from its already poor condition over the last few months, but Saudi’s recent involvement in Lebanese politics has further increased the rate of their disintegrating associations. As Iran’s vassal in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s conflict with Saudi Arabia could potentially boil over to include Iran as well, possibly creating further conflicts in the region.
As the war with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria appears to be drawing to a close, international attention and involvement will likely begin to sway south towards two much larger regional superpowers; this time, the social, political, and economic effects of any conflict between the two, will undoubtedly be much greater than we have seen before in the last decade of this war-torn, ever-volatile region.
Featured Image Credits: Associated Press