The New York Times reports on the latest developments in the Hariri story:

Mr. Hariri did not offer clear answers on why he had announced his resignation from Saudi Arabia rather than Lebanon. He also did not provide any new details on what he had described eight days earlier as a plot against his life. He looked pale and tired, with dark circles under his eyes, which often darted to the side, as if looking at someone else in the room.

Those concerned that he may have been pressured or even detained by Saudi Arabia — including Lebanese officials, Western diplomats and some of Mr. Hariri’s political allies — were unlikely to be convinced by anything short of his return to Lebanon.

As Thanassis Cambanis points out in a useful article today, if Hariri had truly been free all along he would have already returned to Lebanon. If the Saudis didn’t want everyone to think that he was their prisoner, they couldn’t have done a worse job. At best, the Saudis have shown their would-be allies how treacherous and unreliable they can be, and that will make it harder for them to regain the influence they so thoughtlessly squandered over the last week.

Cambanis concludes:

Saudi Arabia’s plan to use him to strike against Iran will fail. Just look at how willfully it has misused and now destroyed its billion-dollar Lebanese asset. It’s a poor preview of things to come in the Saudi campaign against Iran.

As I mentioned last week, the Saudis have unwittingly boosted Iranian influence or played into their hands at their own expense in every attempt to hurt Iran they have made. Just as our own Iran hawks have backed the policies that have done the most to increase Iranian influence in the region, Iran hawks in Riyadh have the same ability to blunder into helping their regional rival despite their worst intentions. Iran hawks are usually too inept to do much harm to their adversary, but they do manage to do a lot of harm to other countries along their misguided way.