LE­BANON JIBES SAUDIS OVER THE MISS­ING PM

Syr­ian peace means re­gional and global pow­ers will cir­cle to re­align power, says Bassem Mroue

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - WORLDWIDE -

LE­BANON’S pres­i­dent yes­ter­day called on Saudi Ara­bia to clar­ify the rea­sons why the coun­try’s prime min­is­ter has not re­turned home since his res­ig­na­tion last week, which was an­nounced from the king­dom.

The move came as the United States and France ex­pressed their sup­port for Le­banon’s sovereignty and sta­bil­ity amid height­en­ing ten­sions be­tween Beirut and Saudi Ara­bia.

A po­lit­i­cal cri­sis has gripped Le­banon and shat­tered the rel­a­tive peace main­tained by its coali­tion gov­ern­ment since Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri’s stun­ning an­nounce­ment on Novem­ber 4 — made from the Saudi cap­i­tal — that he was re­sign­ing.

Le­banese of­fi­cials have in­sisted on the re­turn home of Hariri from Saudi Ara­bia amid rumours he is be­ing held against his will.

Saudi of­fi­cials have said that their mea­sures against Le­banon are in re­sponse to the mil­i­tant Hezbol­lah group’s sup­port of an­tiSaudi rebels in Ye­men known as Houthis.

Le­banese Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun called on Saudi Ara­bia to clar­ify why Hariri has not re­turned home since an­nounc­ing his res­ig­na­tion, say­ing that “the ob­scu­rity re­gard­ing Hariri’s con­di­tions means what he says does not re­flect the truth”.

It was an in­di­ca­tion that Aoun does not recog­nise Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion.

Pres­i­dent Aoun said in a state­ment from his of­fice that any stance or move by Hariri “is the re­sult of the du­bi­ous and mys­te­ri­ous sit­u­a­tion that he is liv­ing in the king­dom”.

In state­ments re­leased by his of­fice, Aoun called on Saudi Ara­bia “that is linked to us through deep broth­erly and friendly re­la­tions to clar­ify the rea­sons that are pre­vent­ing” Hariri re­turn­ing to Le­banon.

White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said in a state­ment that Wash­ing­ton calls upon “all states and par­ties to re­spect Le­banon’s sovereignty, in­de­pen­dence, and con­sti­tu­tional pro­cesses”.

The Saudi Min­is­ter for Gulf Af­fairs warned ear­lier this month that his gov­ern­ment would deal with Le­banon as a hos­tile state as long as Hezbol­lah was in the Le­banese gov­ern­ment.

The Le­banese unity gov­ern­ment that Hariri formed a year ago in­cludes Hezbol­lah mem­bers — the re­sult of a tacit Saudi-Ira­nian agree­ment to side­line Le­banon from the other proxy wars in the re­gion

“In this sen­si­tive time, the US also re­jects any efforts by mili­tias within Le­banon or by any for­eign forces to threaten Le­banon’s sta­bil­ity, un­der­mine Le­banese gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions, or use Le­banon as a base from which to threaten oth­ers in the re­gion,” Ms San­ders said. She was ap­par­ently re­fer­ring to Hezbol­lah and Saudi Ara­bia.

She de­scribed Hariri as “a trusted part­ner of the US in strength­en­ing Le­banese in­sti­tu­tions, fight­ing ter­ror­ism, and pro­tect­ing refugees”, adding that the Le­banese army and se­cu­rity forces are the only le­git­i­mate forces in Le­banon.

Also yes­ter­day, Le­banon’s state-run Na­tional News Agency re­ported that French pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron called pres­i­dent Aoun ex­press­ing France’s com­mit­ment to Le­banon’s “unity, sovereignty and in­de­pen­dence and to help it in pre­serv­ing po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity sta­bil­ity”.

The lat­est po­lit­i­cal earth­quake in Saudi Ara­bia has led to much spec­u­la­tion over the fu­ture of the king­dom and the Gulf Arab states.

But most analy­ses have ig­nored the far big­ger is­sue loom­ing over the re­gion’s up­heavals — prospects for a mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion be­tween the US and Iran are rapidly es­ca­lat­ing.

Just as Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man was con­sol­i­dat­ing ab­so­lute power last week­end — crack­ing down on the last royal rel­a­tives, bil­lion­aire in­vestors, Wah­habi cler­ics and rights ad­vo­cates who posed a threat to his reign — the king­dom an­nounced it was hold­ing Iran re­spon­si­ble for a mis­sile at­tack on Riyadh by Ye­men’s Houthi rebels. The group has ties to Tehran, but Saudi claims re­main un­sub­stan­ti­ated.

The abrupt res­ig­na­tion of Hariri — a close Saudi ally — while on a visit to Riyadh, cit­ing fears of an Ira­nian at­tempt on his life, in­di­cates how Le­banon is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a flashpoint in the cold war be­tween Tehran and Riyadh. The Le­banese army and Iran’s ally in Le­banon, Hezbol­lah, deny any plot against Hariri.

If Saudi Ara­bia forces a show­down with Iran, the US would find it­self in the mid­dle. State­ments by Don­ald Trump and his na­tional se­cu­rity team point to a more ag­gres­sive US pos­ture to­ward Tehran.

‘The ob­scu­rity re­gard­ing Hariri’s con­di­tions means what he says does not re­flect truth...’

CON­TRO­VERSY: In this photo pro­vided by the Saudi Press Agency, Saudi King Sal­man, right, meets with the re­cently re­signed Le­banese prime min­is­ter Saad Hariri in Saudi Ara­bia last Mon­day

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