BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s abrupt resignation has taken Lebanon’s political class by surprise including Hariri’s closest political aides and members of his Future Movement. Almost a week later, the country’s top officials continue to be puzzled by the resignation and unsure of how to proceed.
President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri have urged calm and patience, stressing that no parliamentary consultations to name a new prime minister will take place before Hariri’s return to Beirut to officially confirm his resignation.
Hezbollah and its allies, on the other hand, have not only claimed that Saudi Arabia has forced Hariri to resign but have insinuated that the outgoing prime minister is being held in the kingdom against his will.
The next few weeks will reveal whether Hezbollah’s claims hold some truth. But regardless of the outcome and the timing of Hariri’s return to Beirut, the fact remains that the previous compromise deal between the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah and the Saudi-backed coalition, which had translated into a national unity Cabinet under Hariri, has collapsed.
A collapse, which Saudi Arabia has forced in a bid to deny Hezbollah political cover and renegotiate the terms of a new political deal; a deal that begins with the formation of a Cabinet in which Hezbollah lacks representation but more importantly one that assumes a hardline position vis-a-vis the Shiite group’s involvement in the Syrian conflict and its meddling in the affairs of Arab states.
Pro-Saudi officials even indicate that the kingdom will accept nothing less than the withdrawal of Hezbollah fighters from Syria and Iraq as well as an end to the group’s support for the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels whom Saudi Arabia is fighting in Yemen.
These demands indicate that the kingdom has taken an offensive approach to clip Iran’s wings in the region, a strategy that appears to receive U.S. backing as evidenced by President Donald Trump's recent statements and Congress’ decision to slap new sanctions on both Iran and Hezbollah.
Iran, on the other hand, is unlikely to succumb to U.S. and Saudi pressure, by throwing away years of investing in proxies designed to wield influence in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen among other countries as recently noted by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
This implies one outcome. Lebanon, like Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, will turn into another battlefield for Saudi Arabia and Iran.
How Saudi Arabia will retaliate once Hezbollah makes it clear that its demands will fall on deaf ears in Lebanon remains to be seen. But it is certain that none of the scenarios being circulated will bode well for Lebanon starting with the Saudi-led coalition slapping sanctions on Lebanon in a move similar to the embargo imposed on Qatar.
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