Lebanon: Playground for geopolitics (updated)

Wed 15 Nov 2017

Lebanon: Playground for geopolitics (updated)

On 22 November Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad-Al-Hariri said he will not resign yet at the request of President Michel Aoun. ‘’I presented today my resignation to President Aoun and he urged me to wait before offering it and to hold onto it for more dialogue about its reasons and political background, and I showed responsiveness,’’ Hariri said in a television statement. The Prime Minister  thanked the President for rejecting his departing from the constitutional norms ‘’under any circumstances’’. Hariri also said he hopes his return to Lebanon contributes to ‘’a responsible dialogue (...) that deals with divisive issues and their repercussions on Lebanon’s relations with Arab brothers.’’ The Prime Minister also attended a military parade that commenced the 74th Independence Day. He returned to Beirut on 21 November, after mediation by French President Macron.

On 4 November Hariri unexpectedly announced his resignation in a television speech from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The hurried departure and the announcement of Hariri’s resignation was followed by confusion and negative reactions across the region.

Lebanese top officials accused Saudi Arabia of coercing Hariri to resign. On 15 November, President Michel Aoun said that Hariri’s movements were being restricted and that the PM was held in Saudi Arabia against his will. Aoun also reiterated that he refuses to recognise Hariri’s withdrawal unless he shows himself in Lebanon. According to the President, Hariri left ‘’all doors open including rescinding his resignation.’’ Meanwhile, Hariri himself denied all accusations. He said he had to resign in order to prevent the imposing of sanctions by the Gulf states on Lebanon to punish it for Iran’s and Hezbollah’s meddling in the region. Furthermore, he said he fled the country because he feared he would be assassinated.

Saudi Arabia denounced the allegations of Lebanon, accusing the country of declaring war against it because of Hezbollah. The leader of the Iran-backed group, Hassan Nasrallah, in turn accused Saudi Arabia of declaring war against it. Saudi Arabia called on other Sunni Arab states to impose sanctions on Hezbollah. However, Saudi Arabia’s closest ally Egypt is reluctant to do so. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on 7 November the country did not consider any measures against Hezbollah. Although, the President called on Iran to stop meddling in the region.

The EU said it supports Lebanon’s stability and unity, calling on all sides ‘’to pursue constructive dialogue’’. The EU repeated its statements on 13 November, urging Hariri to return to Lebanon. The US and France also reiterated their support for the Lebanese government, albeit Hezbollah, which is considered as a terrorist organisation, is also part of the coalition. US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, warned other countries and groups not to use Lebanon for a proxy fight. ‘’There is no legitimate place or role in Lebanon for any foreign forces, militias or armed elements other than the legitimate security forces of the Lebanese state.’’ The country considers Hariri as a ‘’a strong partner’’.

Return to Lebanon
On 12 November, in his first public appearance in a television interview since his resignation announcement (which was boycotted by pro-Hezbollah media), Hariri said the livelihoods of thousands of Lebanon’s citizens were at stake. Hariri called on the government to stick to its disassociation policies regarding the region. According to him, regional interventions by Hezbollah, such as in Syria and in Yemen, must be halted. Furthermore, Hariri announced his return within three days to Lebanon to affirm his resignation as Prime Minister.

New forefront of conflict
The recent events in Lebanon have put the country in the forefront of the ongoing rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as both countries try to augment their influence in the Middle East, following centuries of strife between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam. In Syria, Hezbollah militants fight at the side of President Bashar al-Assad against ISIS and other military fractions. Meanwhile, Iran also plays a prominent role in the battle against ISIS. Together with Iraq, the country recently fought against Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq. In Yemen, Hezbollah partly supports Houthi militants in their fight against the Saudi-led coalition. Some consider the recent events in Saudi Arabia as part of Saudi Arabia’s attempts to reposition itself regionally and globally, as the country considers Iran as a growing threat for the Sunni Arab world. 

Sources: Yalibnan Reuters Yalibnan I Yalibnan II Yalibnan III Reuters I Yalibnan IV Reuters II Reuters III Reuters IV Reuters V