Lebanon: Caught between Saudi Arabia and Iran
The Lebanese are frightened for Saad Hariri, said Claire Chakar in Al-Ittihad (Lebanon). Eight days after the prime minister flew to Saudi Arabia and announced his sudden resignation, Hariri finally gave an interview this week from his Saudi residence, to a Lebanese TV station he owns. It was like watching “an alien on our screens.” Hariri looked pale and exhausted, kept nervously sipping water, and at one point clearly fought back tears. He denied that he was being kept under house arrest by the Saudis, but his “trembling voice, his sad tone, his absent smile” undercut the message. Hariri accused Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite political party and armed faction, of taking over the Lebanese state for Iran. He promised he would soon return to Beirut, and that he would even rescind his resignation if Hezbollah agreed to stop meddling abroad.
This is a Saudi “assault on Lebanese sovereignty,” said Halim Shebaya in Qatar’s AlJazeera.com. Many experts believe the Saudis were furious at their puppet Hariri for forming a coalition government with Hezbollah last year—an act that increased the influence of Tehran, Riyadh’s archenemy, in Lebanon. It’s now thought that the Saudis want to install as prime minister Hariri’s elder brother, Bahaa, who would confront Hezbollah. There is a disturbing precedent for such interventions: Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, Yemen’s president, has been held in Riyadh for six months while Saudi jets bomb Iran-backed Houthi militants in his country. The fear now is that Lebanon “might be facing a proxy war, just like the one in Yemen.” Ominously, the Saudis and other Arab nations have ordered their citizens to leave Lebanon.
Enough with the conspiracy theories, said Baria Alamuddin in Arab News (Saudi Arabia). Hariri came here, to his second home and the site of his family business empire, out of fear for his life. Hezbollah assassinated his father, and we can forgive his reluctance to die for “a government that had become a farce” under the Shiite group’s “malignant dominance.” Hezbollah has “an octopus-like hold over the Lebanese state.” And in the past decade, thanks to Iranian money and weapons, it has waged war in Syria and trained militants across the region, “becoming a core segment of Iran’s transnational paramilitary forces.” Hariri was right to “insist that there cannot be business as usual.”
Inexcusable meddling aside, the Saudis have a point, said Élie Fayad in L’Orient–Le Jour (Lebanon). In our land of cedars, an “evil has gnawed for decades at political and institutional life.” Lebanon’s complicated power-sharing agreement—under which a Christian holds the presidency and a Sunni Muslim the prime ministership, while a Shiite Muslim is appointed speaker of Parliament— helped keep the peace after our bloody 15-year civil war ended in 1990. But it has utterly failed to contain Hezbollah. Lebanon cannot continue “cohabiting with an armed militia engaged in the service of a regional power.” But how to escape without “shooting ourselves in the head”?