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Editorial

OC
Our Correspondent
November 16, 2017

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The Hariri case

The Hariri case

The chaos in the Middle East has also involved a country that has been mostly remained out of the focus in recent years. On November 3, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri flew to Saudi Arabia, announced his resignation and disappeared.          On November 12, he finally appeared again on television to promise that he would be ‘back within days’ and would seek a settlement with rivals, Hezbollah. Hariri made clear what everyone thought. It was the Iran issue that was behind the resignation. The condition he has set for resuming his position as prime minister is for Hezbollah to promise to stay neutral in regional conflicts.  The entire affair has shaken up the Middle East with questions being asked over Saudi Arabia’s role in the resignation. Hariri himself was the head of a pro-Saudi political party in a country where the Shia-political party Hezbollah is able to assert a significant amount of control over domestic and external policy. While Lebanon has escaped the civil wars of the Middle East, it retains some of the highest stakes. It has the largest numbers of Syrian refugees, Hezbollah remains involved in the fight against Isis and the country itself has swerved in and out of the influence of Iran and Saudi Arabia. The trouble is that the missing prime minister can only be explained in terms of the proxy politics that Saudi Arabia and Iran are playing in the Middle East. For most analysts, it is still not clear whether Hariri is being held hostage under duress or is acting freely.

Already involved in a war on the Yemen front, the question is: what does Saudi Arabia want in Lebanon? Any attempt to forcibly influence Lebanon would only add to the chaos in the Middle East. Any attempt to undermine Hezbollah in Lebanon is also likely to create a very messy situation. Hariri’s speech announcing his resignation was itself inflammatory in claiming that Iran and Hezbollah were planning to assassinate him. The Lebanese president has declared that Hariri has been ‘kidnapped’, making this a rather dramatically exceptional situation. With the Islamic State still undefeated, the focus of priorities in the Middle East remains skewed. This is an unpredictable space and will need to be watched carefully. The need for a UN Security Council intervention is immediate. The Saudi declaration that Lebanon has declared war on it – based on no observable reality – requires pre-emptive de-escalation. Whatever little peace remains in the Middle East could easily be destroyed.         

 

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