BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s announcement earlier this week that he is putting his resignation on hold has prompted a number of officials within Hezbollah’s camp to announce that the Iranian-sponsored coalition has prevailed over its Saudi counterpart in Lebanon.
Some pro-Hezbollah media outlets have even gone as far as to claim that negotiations over a new political settlement that requires Hezbollah not to interfere in the affairs of Arab states in return for Hariri to resume his role as prime minister is nothing but a superficial move aimed at saving Saudi Arabia some face.
While it might be accurate to say that Hezbollah and its allies won the latest round of Iranian-Saudi proxy wars in the region, it would be too early to call a complete Iranian victory over the kingdom in Lebanon.
Hezbollah might have been able, thanks to French-led mediation efforts to preserve stability in Lebanon, to fend off Saudi pressure for the moment.
But to believe that the pass which Saudi Arabia has granted France was unconditional and open-ended is naive.
Iran and Hezbollah’s refusal to make real concessions as part of a new political settlement means Saudi Arabia is left with two options.
The first is to accept a return to the old political deal that led to the formation of a coalition government under Hariri who will then resume business as usual. The second is to step up pressure against Lebanon to force real concessions from Iran and Hezbollah.
Reading into Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s remarks to the New York Times on Thursday, the second scenario seems more likely.
The crown prince insisted, according to the U.S. daily, that the bottom line of the whole affair is that Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, is not going to continue providing political cover for a Lebanese government that is essentially controlled by the "Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah militia, which in turn follows orders from Tehran."
In other words, the kingdom, which has been accused of forcing Hariri’s resignation in a televised speech from Saudi Arabia over two weeks ago and holding the Lebanese prime minister against his will, will not accept that he continues to shield Hezbollah under the same old terms.
What practical measures the kingdom will take remains to be seen but it would be foolish to call an Iranian win so soon over Saudi Arabia in the newest battlefield between the two regional powers.
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