There was a general feeling of surprise when Saad Hariri resigned. The then-Prime Minister of Lebanon was in Saudi Arabia when he made the announcement on November 4. He said he feared for his life under Iran’s and Hezbollah’s grip on Lebanon.
It followed the declaration of a regional crisis after a missile fired from Yemen was destroyed in flight over Riyadh airport. Saudi Arabia accused Yemeni rebels and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Lebanon has found itself at the heart of a crisis that stretches far beyond its borders.
“Lebanon cannot be blamed when the missile was fired from and to two other countries. We have nothing to do with it. If there are problems to resolve with Iran, why not look to Iran to settle them. Lebanon is not Iran. It is not Saudi Arabia. It’s not Syria. Lebanon is Lebanon”, Lebanon’s foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, claimed.
As the crisis worsens and alarms the West, questions plague onlookers: is Saad Hariri a free man? Was his resignation an order from Riyadh? Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has publically accused Saudi authorities of detaining the former prime minister. However Hariri has taken to Twitter to insist he is fine.
Euronews interviewed Hasni Abidi, political scientist and Director of the Centre for Studies and Research on the Arab and Mediterranean World (Cermam) in Geneva, for his insight on the situation.
Audrey Tilve euronews:
Many believe that Saudi Arabia has forced Saad Hariri to resign. Yet he is a Sunni Muslim, has dual Lebanese-Saudi nationality and is very close to Riyadh. So, how could his resignation serve Saudi interests?
Hasni Abidi, Cermam Director:
Under new leadership, with a completely different tone, Saudi Arabia is in the throes of a dispute with Iran and Hezbollah. The latter is a key player in the Lebanese parliament and government. It’s also closely linked to the Iranians, and Saudi Arabia wants to punish Hezbollah, to deprive it of some of its participation in power. And Saad Hariri’s resignation and of course the fact that it was announced in Riyadh, sends a strong message to Hezbollah, to the Lebanese and to the Iranians. Hariri has probably been blackmailed because he is the strong man of Lebanon, but also the man of the Saudis.
Is Lebanon condemned to serve as a pawn for the two powers that are Iran and Saudi Arabia? Two powers that are engaged in an increasingly fierce struggle of influence, as we see and Syria and Yemen?
Lebanon is a hostage of animosity between the Saudis and the Iranians, which are engaged in a proxy war. The Saudis have never accepted the triumphant position of the Iranians, since they have gained influence in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and now Iraq. With Iraq, they’ve also succeeded in building this Shiite arch dreaded by the Saudis. Today, Lebanon is paying the consequences of this war of influence between two regional powers.
Is there a risk Lebanon will be plunged into the chaos?
Today, Saad Hariri’s resignation could rupture a fragile equilibrium, with huge consequences, both for Lebanon and its neighbouring countries.
Many Lebanese people, in any case, say they are exasperated by the games of influence and schemes. Do they have the right to quote? Are they heard by their country’s politicians and leaders?
The Lebanese people are aware of the complexity of the Lebanese crisis and they’d like, above all, for Lebanon to adopt a policy of neutrality when faced with regionals actors and crises. And we’ve witnessed a wake-up call to the Lebanese people across all religions, to say: we don’t want a new crisis thrust upon us and dictated to us by a foreign party. This request for Hariri to return shows that the Lebanese people want Lebanese questions to be dealt with in Lebanon, without harmful interference from other countries in the region.
More generally, in the context of the exacerbated tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which also implicate Israel, a fierce enemy of Tehran, do you think that we are watching the beginnings of a regional war unfold before us?
All the ingredients are there for new – probably military – tensions in the Middle East. And obviously Lebanon risks paying the bill for this animosity and tension. Of course, we know that the Israelis also want the Saudis to push the Arab League to take draconian measures against Hezbollah and the Iranians and, of course a confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel is not to be laughed at. And that’s why the Lebanese absolutely want the help of the international community to get out of this crisis.