Lebanon’s upheaval over Hezbollah’s role enters new phase as Hariri holds talks in Paris
London- Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s November 18 trip to Paris, during which he met with French President Emmanuel Macron, was expected to end speculation by pro-Hezbollah politicians in Lebanon that Hariri’s movements had been restricted by Riyadh.
The talks between Hariri and Macron were seen as a diplomatic effort by France to reduce tensions over the role of Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy in Lebanon, in the region.
“Lebanon is being shaken so it’s important Hariri comes to Paris for us to work with him on the best way out of the crisis,” a senior French diplomat told Reuters. “We’re trying to create the conditions for a de-escalation in the region. We want to avoid a proliferation of crises that could get out of control.”
France’s initiative drew criticism from Tehran, which accused Paris of being biased against Iran.
“It seems that France has a biased and partisan approach to the crises in the region and this approach, whether intentionally or not, is even contributing to turning potential crises into real ones,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said.
Hezbollah, a Shia political party and militant group in Lebanon, is viewed by Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies as an Iranian proxy. It has been accused of doing Tehran’s bidding in several countries in the region, including Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.
Relations between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon soured after Hariri, who is allied with Saudi Arabia, suddenly resigned as Lebanon’s prime minister while in Riyadh on November 4. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir warned that instability would continue in Lebanon unless the Iran-sponsored Hezbollah group disarms.
Tensions between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia increased during Hariri’s stay in Riyadh, with Hezbollah-allied leaders, including Lebanese President Michel Aoun, claiming Hariri had been forced to resign and was being held against his will by Saudi authorities. Aoun described the Saudi position as an “act of aggression” and a breach of Hariri’s human rights.
Aoun’s remarks came after Hariri posted statements on his official Twitter account pledging to return to Lebanon soon.
During an interview November 12 on a privately owned television station, Hariri hinted he might withdraw his resignation if Lebanon recommitted itself to its “disassociation policy,” which was agreed to by rival Lebanese factions in 2012 to keep the country out of regional conflicts.
Hariri seemed to leave options open regarding his resignation, leading to speculation that the Saudis’ stance on the crisis may have also evolved.
Saudi Minister of State for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan dismissed speculation that the prime minister was being held in Saudi Arabia, saying that Hariri’s political opponents’ concern for his well-being was “exaggerated.”
“The exaggerations on the subject of Hariri are very funny,” Sabhan tweeted on November 11. “All this love and passion — you killed his father and you killed the hopes of the Lebanese people for a peaceful and moderate life. You are trying to kill him both politically and physically,” Sabhan added.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Hariri is expected to attend Lebanon’s Independence Day celebrations in Beirut on November 22.
Okab Saqr, a member of parliament for Lebanon’s Future Movement, said after his visit to France Hariri would have “a small Arab tour” before travelling to Beirut.