Hariri cites Hezbollah and Iran in surprising resignation
Tunis- Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned unexpectedly on November 4, citing Iran’s overarching ambition within the region and concerns for his personal safety.
In a damning address on Saudi-financed Al Arabiya television, Hariri slammed Iran, its Lebanese ally Hezbollah and their activities within the region. He accused Tehran of fomenting chaos throughout the Middle East, saying: “The evil that Iran spreads in the region will backfire on it.” He warned that “Iran’s arms in the region will be cut off.”
Hariri had been frustrated in recent months by the growing influence of Hezbollah within Lebanon and disagreements over the fate of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees who fled Lebanon’s war-torn neighbour.
However, following the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS) and former al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham within Lebanese territory, pressure was growing from Hezbollah and its ally, Lebanese President Michel Aoun, to have the predominantly Sunni Arab refugees returned to the de-escalation zones in Syria.
Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters to Syria to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government. The group’s intervention in Syria is highly controversial in Lebanon.
Hariri said Hezbollah’s policies put Lebanon “in the eye of the storm.” His attacks on Hezbollah came on the heels of new US sanctions on the group that many fear will negatively affect the Lebanese economy.
“Hezbollah was able in past decades to impose a reality in Lebanon by force of arms directed at the chests of Syrians and Lebanese,” Hariri said.
“I declare my resignation from the premiership of the Lebanese government, with the certainty that the will of the Lebanese is strong.”
Hariri described threats against his life and the suspicion that he was in danger from a plot like that in which his father was assassinated in February 2005. He said: “We are living in a climate similar to the atmosphere that prevailed before the assassination of (his father) martyr Rafik Hariri. I have sensed what is being plotted covertly to target my life.”
Further to the very real risk of drawing rebel fire to within the country’s borders, was the political embarrassment of being in partnership with Hezbollah, which many of Lebanon’s allies, principally Saudi Arabia, the United States and the United Kingdom, are fundamentally opposed to.
Domestically, pressure for Lebanon to move closer to Syria had been growing, with Hariri doing little to check the trajectory the country appeared to be assuming.
Matters appeared to reach a head with the visit of three prominent Lebanese politicians to a Syrian trade fair in August. Though Hariri disavowed the move, denying that it represented government policy, the pro-Assad ministers contradicted him: “We are here in our official ministerial capacities and we congratulate the Syrian leadership… for their victory over heretical terrorism,” Industry Minister and Hezbollah official Hussein Hajj Hassan was reported as saying by Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency.
For Hariri, the stakes were deeply personal. The Syrian regime, along with Hezbollah, are the principal suspects in the assassination of his father.
Much of the family’s real estate fortune was founded within Saudi Arabia, lending additional relevance to the venue of his resignation address.
Hariri was appointed prime minister in 2016 — he previously held the office from November 2009 to June 2011 — and had been instrumental in ushering in a period of electoral reform and the appointment of Aoun as president after a 29-month political stalemate.
Appointed to lead his father’s Sunni-dominated Future Movement in 2005, Hariri was also the head of the March 14 Alliance, a coalition that pushed for Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon after his father’s assassination.
Aoun is expected to request that Hariri remain in post until a successor is appointed and charged with forming a government. The Lebanese Constitution mandates that person be a Sunni Muslim.