War fear racks Le­banon

US warns Saudis, Iran and Hezbol­lah to back off from threats to sta­bil­ity.

Herald on Sunday - - WORLD -

US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son has called on “all par­ties both within Le­banon and out­side” to back off from ac­tions that could threaten that coun­try’s sta­bil­ity.

Se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said the warn­ing was di­rected at Saudi Ara­bia as well as at Iran and Hezbol­lah.

The warn­ing fol­lowed sev­eral events that have led to grow­ing fear of a war in Le­banon — in­tended or not — that could en­gulf the re­gion.

Some US and for­eign of­fi­cials worry that strong sup­port for Saudi Ara­bia by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and pres­i­den­tial ad­viser, son-in-law Jared Kush­ner may have helped mo­ti­vate Riyadh to over­play its hand.

The US, Saudi Ara­bia and Is­rael share con­cern about ex­pand­ing Ira­nian in­flu­ence in the re­gion.

Hezbol­lah, Iran’s Le­banon-based proxy, now con­trols sig­nif­i­cant ter­ri­tory in Syria, near its bor­der with Is­rael, and in Le­banon. While some Is­raeli of­fi­cials have voiced sup­port for mov­ing to con­strain Hezbol­lah, oth­ers have urged cau­tion.

Saudi al­lies such as Egypt have strongly op­posed mil­i­tary ac­tion against Iran or Hezbol­lah.

Steps lead­ing to the cur­rent cri­sis be­gan last Satur­day, when the Saudis ac­cused Iran and Hezbol­lah of car­ry­ing out an “act of war” with a mis­sile they said was fired at Riyadh by Ira­nian-backed Houthi rebels in neigh­bour­ing Ye­men.

On the same day, Saudi-backed Le­banese Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri, who shares power with Hezbol­lah in an un­easy coali­tion gov­ern­ment, sud­denly ap­peared in the Saudi cap­i­tal and abruptly an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion from of­fice. The an­nounce­ment threw Le­banon into con­fu­sion and raised fears of war.

On Thurs­day, Saudi Ara­bia, Bahrain and Kuwait or­dered their cit­i­zens out of Le­banon, say­ing their safety was at risk. The Saudis have sug­gested Hariri was es­cap­ing a Hezbol­lah as­sas­si­na­tion plot.

In Le­banon, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers from dif­fer­ing fac­tions called on Hariri to re­turn and ad­dress his po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion from Beirut.

Hezbol­lah, which is both a mil­i­tant group and a po­lit­i­cal force, has called Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion il­le­gal be­cause it was done from afar. Hezbol­lah leader Has­san Nas­ral­lah said the Saudis had kid­napped Hariri and “asked Is­rael to at­tack Le­banon”.

Hezbol­lah has ex­panded its po­lit­i­cal role in the com­plex Le­banese coali­tion dur­ing Hariri’s 11 months in of­fice. Hariri’s abrupt ar­rival in Saudi Ara­bia is seen by many in Le­banon as a blunt sig­nal from Riyadh that he had not done enough to re­buff Hezbol­lah and Ira­nian in­flu­ence, and that Saudi Ara­bia in­tends to as­sert its in­flu­ence in Le­banon against Iran.

US and Euro­pean diplo­mats have met with Hariri in Riyadh, but a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial, asked if Hariri was free to leave Saudi Ara­bia, said, “We don’t know.”

Along­side the Hariri drama, Saudi au­thor­i­ties also an­nounced the ar­rest last Satur­day of more than 200 princes, se­nior of­fi­cials and prom­i­nent Saudi busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives.

Cast as part of a do­mes­tic an­ti­cor­rup­tion drive, the ar­rests also left Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man in undis­puted con­trol of Saudi se­cu­rity ser­vices. That may be an at­tempt to con­sol­i­date power be­fore even­tu­ally in­her­it­ing the throne.

— Wash­ing­ton Post

AP

Hezbol­lah sup­port­ers cheer as Sheik Has­san Nas­ral­lah says the prime min­is­ter’s res­ig­na­tion was un­der duress and un­con­sti­tu­tional.

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