Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Saudi Arabia says Lebanon has declared war on it, or is it the other way around?

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"Saudi Arabia says Lebanon has declared war on it", Reuters reported last night. The statement comes from Saudi Gulf affairs minister, Thamer al-Sabhan, and Foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir. The latter claims that Hezbollah has launched an Iranian missile from Huthi territory in Yemen. He forgot to throw in a Bahraini opposition figure and some Qatari involvement for his narrative to be complete!

You have to love Saudi logic: Hezbollah controls Lebanon, Hezbollah launched a missile on Riyadh, therefore Lebanon has declared war on Saudi Arabia. Obviously, neither al-Sabhan nor al-Jubeir have offered any proof whatsoever to support their claim. When you think of it, this looks very much like something Donald Trump would tweet after a fit with Melania, just to vent his frustration. Knowing that Trump and the Saudi ruling family are now best friends, it’s not surprising they start to sound somewhat alike.

About the claim itself – Lebanon has declared war on Saudi Arabia – let’s compare both countries’ track record. Saudi Arabia helped destroy Iraq, Syria and Libya; it sent troops to Bahrain to crush the popular uprising and launched a full-fledged war against Yemen. Its actions have cost several hundred thousands human lives and immeasurable destruction. The countless war crimes committed by the Saudi regime in Yemen have been condemned by the United Nations. And its involvement with jihadist groups in Iraq, Syria and Libya is now public knowledge.

All the while Lebanon has barely managed to rule itself…

On top of that, Lebanon has never meddled in Saudi internal affairs – it couldn’t have even if it wanted to! The first official trip Michel Aoun took after his election as president was to Saudi Arabia. Lebanese officials have always expressed their friendship towards the Wahhabi kingdom. And even if Hezbollah indulged in inflamed speeches against the Saudi regime, no Lebanese government has ever condoned such speeches, but actually distanced itself from them.

By contrast, Saudi Arabia meddles shamelessly in Lebanese internal affairs. It has a say about who becomes president and who becomes Prime minister. Over the years, it offered financial backing to many Lebanese political parties. Many political and media figures are known to be its employees. Day in and day out, its minister of Gulf affairs directly threatens Lebanon and the Lebanese. And now, it forced our Prime minister to resign and allegedly detained him as part of their “anti-corruption” sweep.

Who’s declaring on whom, one may wonder.

Besides, what Saudi Arabia is asking of Lebanon is simply impossible. Hezbollah represents a large number of Lebanese, and some of its members were elected to Parliament. Every serious opinion poll shows that the party’s popularity is still very strong among Shias and that they would win the next elections in the Bekaa, in South Lebanon and in parts of Mount-Lebanon. According to the Lebanese Constitution, no one has the authority to dismiss such a representative political party because a foreign nation is angry at it. On the other hand, Hezbollah has become a major military player in the region, asking Lebanon to disarm it by force is pure madness and would only lead to the complete destruction of the country.

Conflating Lebanon as a whole and Hezbollah is part of the Israeli war narrative. On many occasions, the Netanyahu government has tried to frighten the Lebanese from a global war on their country that would send them back to the Stone Age, with the obvious objective of creating strife between Sunnis, Christians and Shias. So far, it didn’t work. Except for some delusional zionists, the overwhelming majority of the Lebanese people considers Israel as an enemy and doesn’t pay much attention to their warmongering speeches.

Things are very different with Saudi Arabia. The Sunni political and financial establishment sees the kingdom as their protector. The Lebanese sectarian divide compels many Sunni citizens to do the same. By forcing Saad Hariri to resign, the Saudi regime tries to shatter the fragile political balance that led to Michel Aoun’s election as president and to Hariri’s nomination as Prime minister. Their fiery statements coupled with their Lebanese henchmen’s aggressive rhetoric are way more effective to incite strife between Sunnis and Shias than any Israeli ranting.

The Saudi strategy is not very subtle, to say the least. It aims at pushing Hezbollah to violently react to its attacks, force the nomination of a Sunni ally as Prime Minister and even resort to an armed show of force. A new May 7 of sorts – Hezbollah fighters and allied militias took over West Beirut on May 7, 2008. By reaction, this would ignite the Sunni street and provoke sectarian clashes throughout the country. These clashes would considerably weaken Hezbollah and create the perfect opportunity for a large-scale Israeli attack.

Until now, this strategy has failed. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has called for calm and President Aoun said he would not accept Hariri’s resignation until the latter returns to Lebanon. To preserve the country’s stability, the president has also convened security and financial meetings and started talks with all parliamentary blocs and party leaders.

Having said that, there’s no way to know what Saudi Arabia’s Lebanese henchmen would do to further their employer’s plan. In any case, the only way to sail through this storm and keep Lebanon away from any suicidal sectarian strife is for all Lebanese to put their differences aside, remain united no matter what, and ask for the safe return of our Prime minister.

© Claude El Khal, 2017