Herbert London: Saudi Arabia, Hezbollah And Lebanon

Dec 6, 2017

The seas are roiling once again in the Middle East. Saad Hariri resigned as Lebanon’s prime minister, citing an assassination plot against him organized by his former government coalition partner, Hezbollah. “Wherever Iran settles,” he said in a television address, “it sows discord, devastation and destruction, proven by its interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries.”

It is noteworthy that Mr. Hariri delivered his remarks from Saudi Arabia. Lebanon’s president Michel Aoun, a long-time tool of Damascus, said he will not accept Hariri’s resignation unless he returns to Beirut and hands it over in person – certainly a strange course of action.

The Lebanese Army claims it is not aware of any assassination plot – hardly a credible statement when Hezbollah controls the Army and independent sources indicated Hezbollah killed Hariri’s father in 2005. On one matter there isn’t dispute: Hariri was not able to assert his authority in office; albeit he had to know the Iranian backed terrorist organization would not afford him the opportunity to use his limited powers.

Although it appears as if Hariri is doing Saudi Arabian bidding, he is actually exposing the Lebanese government for what it is – the subject of a hostile takeover by Tehran. The mask of credibility has been removed. Iran’s conquest and de facto annexation is complete.

Do these events presage a war between Saudi princes? Will Saudi leaders feel war is inevitable? Hariri needs Saudi support. Without it, he is swimming in the Mediterranean by himself. By contrast, Hezbollah merely waits for orders from Iran.

The fear is that self-interest might drive the Sunni factions to war, a war that will have profound effects on the region. Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman described the Houthi missile flying over Riyadh as an “act of war.” Moreover, the war in Yemen promoted by Iran may spill across the border into Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia ordered its citizen to leave Lebanon escalating this bewildering crisis. It also escalated its condemnation of Hezbollah declaring Lebanon had effectively declared war on Saudi Arabia.

Most analysts believe Saudi officials, namely the Crown Prince, is not prepared for war with the internal turmoil in his own country, but conditions could easily spiral out of control.

Fears were building that Israel – which shares Saudi goals of rolling back Hezbollah – might use the occasion to destroy the 100,000 missiles targeted at Israeli cities. But all parties are seemingly concerned with an escalation leading to major war.

What is the likely outcome? There will be a fair amount of saber rattling. There might even be a trade embargo. The illusion that there is separation among the Lebanese government, Hezbollah and Iran has been shattered. Iran controls Lebanon. Saudi Arabia will try to isolate Lebanon, but the Crown Prince is preoccupied with stability at home. Lebanon for him is a distraction, albeit a distraction that puts him in the cross-hairs of his Shia rival, Iran.

There are many fuses in the Middle East. Any one of them could lead to an explosion. In fact, entropy is more likely than stability. From the U.S. perspective, a wait and see attitude is desirable, but if there is a tilt it should be in the Saudi direction since Lebanon is another foothold in Iran’s imperial desire for Middle East domination. 

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research,  a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org

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