Lebanon and the roots of Saudi discontent

Friday 26/02/2016

It did not really come as a surprise to Hezbollah that Saudi Arabia would suspend aid to the Lebanese Army and security forces. The aid in question was a donation of $3 billion to the army to buy French-made weapons and a second donation of $1 billion to the security forces.

Observers of Lebanese affairs were not surprised, first, by Hezbollah not being surprised and, second, by the Saudi deci­sion, which reflects a change in the overall Gulf mood towards Lebanon.

The mood change began with the onset of the Syrian crisis and with Hezbollah taking sides and engaging in the conflict. Hezbol­lah used various excuses to justify its interference in Syrian affairs, the last of which being to dam the spread of extreme Sunni militant ideology and its followers.

Hezbollah also propagated ideas and opinions placing Saudi Arabia and Wahhabi ideology in the same bag with Israel, its number one enemy, and clearly favouring sectarian over national affiliations.

It was within this context that Hezbollah launched an unprece­dented campaign against Saudi Arabia that culminated with the Lebanese foreign minister break­ing ranks with the rest of Arab and Muslim countries by refusing to condemn Iran’s meddling in Arab affairs and denounce the attacks on the Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran.

The Lebanese government took a hesitant stand in the affair, which did not improve the sour mood of Gulf countries towards Lebanon. More than that, news about daily arrests in the Gulf countries of pro- Hezbollah cells bent on destroy­ing those countries’ security and stability have become frequent.

The Saudi decision to suspend aid to Lebanon is a painful blow to the tiny Arab country but the Saudi kingdom and the Gulf coun­tries remain perfectly capable of taking more measures harmful to Lebanon and the Lebanese.

The move has stirred many fears in the minds of the Lebanese people.

First, perhaps the Saudi deci­sion came as a result of the Saudis losing faith in the capacity of their allies in Lebanon to ensure the minimum balance between forces inside Lebanon. It is very likely that Hezbollah opponents inside Lebanon are growing weaker and their recent surrealist initiatives to nominate their worst enemies, Michel Aoun and Suleiman Frangieh, to the presidency are behind the Saudis growing tired of Lebanon and the Lebanese.

The second fear is that the Saudi decision will be followed by oth­ers, which will hurt the economy more than Hezbollah. The Saudi decision indeed may play into Hezbollah’s hands and drive the country further into Iran’s sphere of influence.

The third fear relates to the doors being closed indefinitely on a solution in Lebanon. Partitioning the country is virtually impossi­ble. Turning it into a federation is science fiction in light of the party monopolising power.

As to disarming Hezbollah, it has become a regional affair contin­gent on Iran’s weight and role in the region after the latter’s nuclear agreement with the West and on the outcome of regional wars.

On a regional level, it is feared that the Saudi decision was taken in anticipation of developments in the region that bypass Lebanon and that concern the war in Syria, particularly after the latest turn of events on the field in the northern front.

As things stand, the only light at the end of the tunnel is to have an international conference to settle all conflicts in the region, beginning with the Syrian crisis, and returning all parties to their original sizes. Such a step will certainly have a calming effect on the internal affairs of countries in the region.