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Lebanon is about to become another battlefield for Saudi Arabia and Iran. And the longstanding conflict between Riyadh and Tehran threatens to engage other regional and global players, as it has done in the past.
The surprise resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is a new milestone in the long-standing conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In Riyadh, high-ranking government officials accused the Lebanese political-military organization Hezbollah – which has Tehran’s backing – of destabilizing the Mediterranean country. The Minister for Persian Gulf Affairs, Thamer al-Sabhan, came to the point of declaring that Hezbollah had engaged in acts of “aggression” amounting to a “declaration of war against Saudi Arabia”.
For their part, Hezbollah spokespersons claim that it is their rivals in Riyadh who have meddled in the internal affairs of Lebanon. In his eyes, the resignation of Prime Minister Hariri was a decision imposed by the Saudis. Political analysts fear that this series of bickering between the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah is the prelude to a new expansion of the confrontation between Riyadh and Iran’s Shia elite, whose discord has dragged its neighbors, as wars show civilians from Yemen and Syria.
Saudi Arabia is now “more assertive”
Although Saudi Arabia has had limited success three years after the beginning of its military intervention in Yemen against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, the anti-government forces that Riyadh has supported in Syria have been repelled by the “strongman” of Damascus, Bashar al Assad, whose Army continues to win victories with the help of Russia and Iran.
Yezid Sayigh of the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East research center argues that Saudi Arabia’s motives for intervening in the Lebanese political arena are not clear, but he says that if he decided to do so, that intrusion could go wrong, as happened to him. in Syria In an interview with DW, Sayigh argues that, although Saudi Arabia could end up causing a crisis in Lebanon, the results of it could be the opposite of what it seeks. And it is that Iran would soon respond if their interests in the country were threatened.
“The Arabs have been characterized by practicing a low profile foreign policy and using the so-called ‘soft power.’ However, in recent years, Riyadh has been changing its strategy progressively and implementing the ‘hard power’ with increasing frequency Now, his foreign policy is more assertive, the problem is that, in the last two years, that strategy has been applied by someone with very little experience and too much daring, by itself, daring is not always a bad thing, but the The daring of which I speak has already caused a civil war in Yemen, the consequences for Saudi Arabia will be felt in the long term, “says Sayigh.
From Riyadh to Washington
If the recent Lebanese political crisis turns violent, the resulting tensions could force the United States and Israel to take action on the issue. Like Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel also perceive Iran as the main sponsor of terrorism in the region. Riyadh has insisted on presenting Tehran as the source of conflict in the Middle East, especially after US President Donald Trump took an openly hostile stance towards the Persians. For Israel, Hezbollah is a threat to the security of its borders; for the United States, “a terrorist group.”
Sayigh predicts significant events in the coming weeks, especially if Trump proposes new sanctions against Iran.
The weight of history
In political terms, power in Lebanon has been divided among the representatives of the strongest religious groups. In 1943, after Lebanon gained independence from France, it was agreed that the presidency would be assumed by a Catholic Maronite Christian, that the office of prime minister would be occupied by a Sunni Muslim and that the Speaker of the Parliament should be a Shia Muslim. Since 1990, when the end of the fifteen-year civil war was agreed, that confessional system has continued to function with relative effectiveness.
Rafik, father of former Prime Minister Hariri, was assassinated in 2005. After an exhaustive investigation, a United Nations-backed court issued arrest warrants against four Hezbollah members for the murder in question. Hezbollah denies its link with the murder.