Saudi-Lebanese crisis continues as Hariri meets with French president

November 19, 2017
Remote crisis management. Lebanese watch an interview with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri at a coffee shop in Beirut, on November 12. (AFP)

London- Putting to rest accusations that he was being held against his will in Saudi Arabia, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, Hariri’s second overseas visit since his shock resig­nation earlier this month.

Hariri was welcomed by Macron on November 18 at the Élysée Pal­ace, where the two discussed the crisis in Lebanon.

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon have deteriorated since November 4 when Hariri an­nounced from Riyadh that he was resigning. Lebanese President Michel Aoun blamed the prime minister’s resignation on a wider conspiracy and claimed Hariri was being held in Riyadh against his will. Aoun called the situation an “act of aggression” and a breach of human rights.

Hariri told the privately owned Lebanese al-Mustaqbal television station that his resignation was in­tended to trigger a “positive shock” in Lebanon. He implied that he might withdraw the resignation if Lebanon committed itself to the “disassociation policy” and stayed out of regional conflicts, such as the Syrian civil war, which the Leb­anese militant group Hezbollah has participated in.

“The Syrian regime doesn’t want me. I always stood in the face of [the Islamic State], al-Nusra and al-Qaeda and in other times we faced and are still facing big chal­lenges with Hezbollah,” Hariri said. “There are many parties who do not want Saad Hariri. This is why I am taking measures, building a safety net, reviewing my security.”

Hariri blamed Tehran and its proxy Hezbollah for destabilising Lebanon and cited fears for his life while announcing his intention to leave office.

Political opponents and some Western media expressed scepti­cism about Hariri’s comments.

Following the allegations from Lebanese political figures — par­ticularly Hariri’s opponents – that Hariri had been held against his will, Saudi Minister of State for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan posted a strong rebuttal on Twitter.

“The exaggerations on the sub­ject of Hariri are very funny,” Sab­han posted 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.

Hezbollah is suspected of hav­ing carried out the February 2005 bombing in which former Leba­nese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — Saad’s father — was among 23 peo­ple killed.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al- Jubeir said the tough Saudi rheto­ric was tied to the ballistic missile, launched from Yemen by Houthi rebels, that was intercepted No­vember 4 over King Khalid Interna­tional Airport in Riyadh after Hari­ri’s resignation announcement.

“The missile was Iranian-built. It was similar to a missile that was launched against the city of Yanbu (Western Saudi Arabia) on the 22nd of July,” Jubeir told CNBC.

The foreign minister said the missile was smuggled into Yemen in parts and assembled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah.

“We believe that the missile that landed in Riyadh is of a similar make and we hold Iran responsible for this,” he said.

US officials have also said they believed the missile was Iranian-made.

Relations between Riyadh and Beirut previously soured in 2016 after Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, a political ally of Hezbollah, refused to vote on a joint Arab statement condemning an attack on the Saudi diplomatic mission in Iran.

Some Gulf Cooperation Coun­cil (GCC) members banned their citizens from travelling to Lebanon and reduced their diplomatic pres­ence in Beirut. All six GCC mem­bers designated Hezbollah a ter­rorist organisation and sanctioned some of its figures.

Relations improved after a deal was brokered in which Aoun, who is aligned with Hezbollah, became president of Lebanon in October 2016 under the condition that Hari­ri return as prime minister. Saudi Arabia appointed an ambassador to Lebanon last February.