Many were surprised when Saudi Arabia invited Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to visit the kingdom, and when he welcomed the invitation!
We can at least say that Hariri’s crisis proved that Saudi Arabia does not have absolute authority over any of its allies, even over Saad, the son of Rafiq Hariri who has a strong and long history of ties with the kingdom. It also proved that Saudi Arabia is a state, and not an exclusive agency for Hariri or any group or party.
Unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran absolutely controls its allies in Lebanon. It treats them like they’re its employees regardless of how high-ranking their statuses might be in their country, without taking into consideration whom they represent within their community. The maneuvering space for Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah is zero. He cannot interact with any faction or country no matter how much he needs to, unless Tehran gives him the green light. If he opposes Iran, he’ll end up wrapped in a kafan (shroud).
Unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran absolutely controls its allies in Lebanon. It treats them like they’re its employees regardless of how high-ranking their statuses might be in their countryAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Lebanon between Iran and Saudi Arabia
Disputes between real allies, not servants and followers, are normal. In fact, there have been disputes between Lebanese figures and Saudi Arabia, though they are very few. Salim al-Hoss, for instance, chose to be on Damascus’ side on a few occasions when he was PM. Najib Miqati also took some actions that did not meet Riyadh’s expectations. Both men, however, maintained good relations.
Siding with axes is a game that Lebanese leaders have mastered, either to express the needs of local factions they represent or of foreign parties they’re allied with. However, they haven’t always been safe tango dances. Leadership in Lebanon is a dangerous task. It’s the country whose politicians were targeted and killed the most. Some of its leaders rarely leave their homes for safety reasons.
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The strange paradox is that Hezbollah, which killed Rafiq Hariri, is the party that led calls to “save Saad Hariri from Saudi Arabia” as they put it. Lebanese people cannot forget that Hezbollah assassinated more than 20 leaders other than Rafiq Hariri. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, the country that’s had relations with Lebanon since the 1950’s, was never reported as “laying a hand” on a leader – perhaps not counting the New York Times’ report that alleged that Hariri was harassed in Riyadh!
Hezbollah’s love for saving Saad Hariri is more of a desire to get rid of him, as they aim to throw him out of Riyadh’s circle to eliminate his main source of power – with all due respect to his state.
Historical ties between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia
Regimes, like the ones in Damascus and Tehran, eliminate others via murder and intimidation. They killed Bashir Gemayel thus eliminating the strongest party that opposed them, i.e. the Kataeb. They killed Kamal Jumblatt thus ending his opposition to their presence in Lebanon. They killed Rafiq Hariri thus cancelling the moderate Sunni movement. They killed George Hawi and Samir Kassir thus silencing the leftists’ voice. They killed Gebran Tueni and disfigured May Chidiac thus intimidating the Christian opposition.
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Riyadh, which has interests in Lebanon and the entire region, has a long history of solid ties with the country. Its interest is to have good relations with all independent leaders in order to serve mutual interests, including liberating Lebanon and the region from Iranian domination that’s directed against Saudi Arabia and others. Iran, however, controls the Lebanese state to impose its regional agenda that extends to the depths of Iraq and Syria.
They also want to create a power balance with Israel, thus serving their nuclear and regional project which has nothing to do with Palestine, that is merely a bargaining chip for them. This is the Saudi-Iranian formula in Lebanon in brief. Saudi Arabia’s invitation to Hariri is a step forward that came as a surprise to many, and thwarted the bet to weaken him, eliminate him and distance Saudi Arabia, thus causing the empowerment of Iran in Lebanon and the rest of the region’s countries.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.