Saad Hariri to re­turn to Le­banon from Saudi Ara­bia ‘within days’

▶ For­mer US diplo­mat Ed­ward Djere­jian gives his take on the un­fold­ing cri­sis

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - DAVID EN­DERS Beirut Con­tin­ues on page 6

Saad Hariri said he would re­turn to Le­banon “within days” as his of­fice re­futed claims from an Ira­nian of­fi­cial re­gard­ing his last meet­ing in Le­banon be­fore he re­signed as prime min­is­ter.

On Twit­ter, Mr Hariri said he was fine and urged Le­banese to re­main calm. He said his fam­ily would stay in Saudi Ara­bia, call­ing it “their coun­try”, from where he an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion last week.

Mr Hariri blamed fear of as­sas­si­na­tion and sharply crit­i­cised Iran’s in­flu­ence in Le­banon and other Arab states. Le­banese pres­i­dent Michel Aoun said he would not ac­cept the res­ig­na­tion un­til Mr Hariri re­turns to Beirut to for­mally sub­mit it.

His res­ig­na­tion speech in Riyadh came a day af­ter he met Ali Ak­bar Ve­lay­ati, a se­nior ad­viser to Ira­nian leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, in Beirut on Novem­ber 3.

“Prime min­is­ter Hariri did not of­fer to me­di­ate be­tween any coun­try and an­other, rather he ex­pressed to Ve­lay­ati his point of view, which is the need to stop Iran’s in­ter­ven­tion in Ye­men as a first step and a pre­con­di­tion to any im­prove­ment of the re­la­tions be­tween Iran and the kingdom of Saudi Ara­bia,” Mr Hariri’s of­fice said yes­ter­day.

Mr Ve­lay­ati claimed ear­lier yes­ter­day that Mr Hariri had of­fered to act as a me­di­a­tor be­tween Iran and Saudi Ara­bia, which is in­tent on halt­ing

As the Le­banese gov­ern­ment works to­wards the pos­si­ble re­turn of Saad Hariri from Riyadh to Beirut this week, for­mer US diplo­mat Ed­ward Djere­jian ex­presses fears that the nine-day cri­sis may have dis­rupted a “del­i­cate bal­ance” in Beirut.

Mr Djere­jian, the di­rec­tor of the James Baker In­sti­tute for Pub­lic Pol­icy at Rice Univer­sity, served in eight Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tions. He spoke to The Na­tional from his of­fice in Texas.

QHow do you view the de­vel­op­ments in Le­banon be­gin­ning with Mr Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion and now the search for a po­lit­i­cal ar­range­ment af­ter his re­turn?

AYou can­not sep­a­rate what is hap­pen­ing in Le­banon from the geopo­lit­i­cal re­gional pic­ture. The Mid­dle East is go­ing through un­prece­dented tur­moil and it can be traced back to the Arab Spring and the up­ris­ings in 2011. We have wit­nessed tec­tonic shifts in the po­lit­i­cal land­scape of the re­gion, and we con­tinue to see ram­i­fi­ca­tions. All the regimes are con­cerned with in­ter­nal se­cu­rity, and if they don’t pro­ceed with struc­tural re­forms, up­ris­ings may re­turn and we could wit­ness more in­se­cu­rity within the re­gion. There is a re­al­i­sa­tion that po­lit­i­cal economies need to work in order to even pre­tend to get ahead of the wave cre­ated by the Arab Spring.”

How is that man­i­fest­ing it­self in Le­banon?

On top of the in­ter­nal sit­u­a­tion, when we look at the ex­ter­nal fac­tors, the Iran-Saudi con­fronta­tion, the GCC rift [Qatar], the war in Ye­men, and now the sit­u­a­tion in Le­banon as it has ex­ploded in the past week, they all point to ex­ter­nal con­fronta­tions and se­ries of proxy con­flicts.

The Iraq in­va­sion in 2003 opened the doors for Iran to con­sol­i­date its in­flu­ence in Bagh­dad and move west­ward. Today, we see Iran as a ma­jor sup­porter of Bashar Al As­sad in Syria, as em­bold­en­ing Hizbol­lah, as supporting the Houthis in Ye­men, and build­ing new prox­ies. Le­banon is one of those prox­ies and the lat­est cri­sis can­not be di­vorced from the re­gional pic­ture and seen as a Le­banese af­fair – it’s far from it. Saad Hariri de­liv­er­ing the res­ig­na­tion state­ment from Riyadh speaks vol­umes to the re­gional di­men­sion.

What does the res­ig­na­tion mean for Le­banon?

The Saad Hariri gov­ern­ment rep­re­sented a dif­fi­cult com­pro­mise since last year through a set­tle­ment be­tween him and pres­i­dent Michel Aoun. The frag­ile bal­ance of in­ter­ests in Le­banon is now be­ing up­set by the res­ig­na­tion, which ev­i­dently means that Le­banese pol­i­tics can be­come more con­fronta­tional. It re­mains to be seen what will hap­pen af­ter the res­ig­na­tion, but Mr Hariri’s re­moval as prime min­is­ter breaks the del­i­cate bal­ance, while mak­ing it un­likely that a cred­i­ble Sunni fig­ure could re­place him any time soon.

Where do you see Is­rael in what is hap­pen­ing? Does the res­ig­na­tion in­crease the risk of mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion be­tween Tel Aviv and Hizbol­lah?

The Is­raelis are watch­ing this very closely and for the past two years their mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence has considered one of the most im­mi­nent threats to Is­rael is con­fronta­tion with Hizbol­lah. If Hizbol­lah is fool­ish enough to pro­voke Is­rael de­lib­er­ately through mis­cal­cu­la­tion and there is an­other con­fronta­tion, the Is­raelis have made it very clear that they will hold the Le­banon gov­ern­ment re­spon­si­ble. If they don’t have Saad Hariri [as an anti-Hizbol­lah force in the gov­ern­ment], the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to shield the gov­ern­ment is gone. This makes it easier to hold Beirut re­spon­si­ble. Nev­er­the­less, Is­rael is not look­ing for any war or con­fronta­tion, and nei­ther is Hizbol­lah sec­re­tary gen­eral Has­san Nas­ral­lah – but the po­ten­tial is there.

What is the exit strat­egy?

There is no vi­able exit strat­egy un­less ma­jor play­ers start pulling back, and by ma­jor play­ers I mean Iran and Saudi. [They need to be] tak­ing a step back in Ye­men, in Iraq, in Le­banon. There is no mil­i­tary so­lu­tion to the Le­banese cri­sis but se­ri­ous com­pro­mises have to be made. Any mil­i­tary so­lu­tion could de­te­ri­o­rate into an­other civil war, and Is­rael could step in.

Where do you see US diplo­macy vis-a-vis all of this?

The US should look at the re­gion strate­gi­cally, try to con­nect the dots and present a co­her­ent strat­egy with­out il­lu­sions about our lever­age and what we can do. The US can use im­por­tant in­flu­ence to con­duct con­flict res­o­lu­tion and not con­flict man­age­ment.

“That means work­ing to­wards a so­lu­tion in Ye­men, end­ing the Qatar cri­sis, work­ing with Rus­sia on Syria, main­tain­ing ter­ri­to­rial agree­ment of Iraq, and en­sur­ing sta­bil­ity in Le­banon. In all of that, Iran should un­der­stand it has to mod­ify its be­hav­iour.

Saudi Ara­bia’s King Sal­man meets Le­banese Ma­ronite pa­tri­arch Bechara Al Rahi in Riyadh. Mr Al Rahi yes­ter­day also held talks with for­mer Le­banese prime min­is­ter Saad Hariri


For­mer prime min­is­ter Saad Hariri with Le­banon’s Chris­tian Ma­ronite pa­tri­arch Bechara Al Rahi in Riyadh yes­ter­day

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