BEIRUT: Lebanese officials sought to absorb the shock of outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation by diverging attention toward the circumstances surrounding his decision, blaming Saudi Arabia for pressuring Hariri in a bid to gain more time to further assess the situation.
By shifting the conversation toward these circumstances, while not accepting Hariri’s resignation before he makes his way back to Lebanon, officials are trying to absorb the political, financial and economic repercussions of this shock decision, as well as trying to map out the political action plan to follow.
Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has taken steps to deny accusations made by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah that Hariri is being held in the Gulf Kingdom against his will. The Kingdom arranged meetings between Hariri and King Salman as well as its newly appointed ambassador to Lebanon. These developments indicate that Hariri would remain in Saudi Arabia for the time being but more importantly force those claiming the outgoing Lebanese prime minister is being held against his will to come up with a new narrative.
This also suggests that as far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, Hariri’s resignation is final, a belief shared by these Lebanese officials, who are merely trying to weather the crisis as best they can.
This, coupled with France releasing a statement acknowledging Hariri’s resignation saying that it respects his decision, essentially settled the matter once and for all.
According to certain politicians, the confusion surrounding this whole matter, as well as the content, timing and origin of the resignation, pushed Nasrallah to maintain a more subdued approach when addressing the nation, calling for calm and patience.
An interesting aspect of Nasrallah’s speech was also his choice of words toward Israel, asserting that a war with the country is a farfetched idea, at least in the foreseeable future; while also urging to avoid behavior that might lead to an escalation between the two groups in the wake of Hariri’s abrupt resignation.
One of the most prominent signs of ambiguity surrounding this whole matter is the lack of clarity even surrounding Hariri and his political allies, who now find themselves in a weaker situation when taking into account their lack of concise action plan with no clear picture of where things are headed.
Moreover, three questions have now surfaced regarding Hariri’s abrupt resignation.
The first is how does the resignation interplay in terms of the internal developments within the Gulf Kingdom?
The second deals with its possible kickback from Iran, given the fact that Hariri based his resignation on his perceived rise of Iranian influence within Lebanon and the region.
The third and most important question is how the resignation will impact the broader U.S-Gulf plan to curb Iran’s influence in the region.
All these questions lack clear and concise answers, as ambiguity surrounds what will happen in the foreseeable future in both political and practical terms.
It is also worthy to note that the crisis has no end in sight, with a political stalemate on the horizon as long as Hariri’s resignation is not wholly accepted.
It now remains to be seen whether these developments will push Saudi Arabia and Iran to seek a form of dialogue in order to appease the situation and avoid turning Lebanon into a battlefield pitting these two regional powers against each other, which will not bode well for Hezbollah given his increased incursion in Syria and the constant threat of Israel.
In essence, this begs the question of how Hezbollah and Iran will respond to this latest development.
A version of this article appeared in Annahar's Arabic print issue on November 7, 2017. The article was adapted into English by Georgi Azar.
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