David Ignatius confirms the reporting from earlier this week that the Lebanese Prime Minister is being held by the Saudis in Riyadh against his will and remains under house arrest:
Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri is being held by Saudi authorities under what Lebanese sources say amounts to house arrest in Riyadh, apparently as part of the Saudi campaign to squeeze Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah.
A startling account of Hariri’s forced detention was provided Friday by knowledgeable sources in Beirut. It offers important new evidence of the tactics used by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to bolster his rule by mobilizing anti-Iran sentiment at home and abroad.
Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is employing heavy-handed, clumsy tactics in Lebanon just as he has done in other countries in the region. These tactics are not only crude and obvious (forcing the resignation of another country’s head of government, holding him as a virtual prisoner), but they are proving to be ineffective and self-defeating. If the goal of this dim-witted maneuver was to embarrass Iran over its support for Hezbollah or put additional pressure on Hezbollah inside Lebanon, it could not have been more of a failure. Instead, the Saudis have played into the hands of their regional rivals, alienated their supposed allies, and made themselves the object of scorn for most people in Lebanon. They have badly damaged their own influence while doing absolutely nothing to reduce Iran’s, and it is the same story in every country where the Saudis try this. The Saudis’ more aggressive foreign policy in recent years is yielding far worse results for them at a higher cost, and their neighbors suffer from their destabilizing and destructive blundering.
Consider just how outrageous Saudi behavior is in this case. If another state pulled a stunt like this and forced a different country’s prime minister to resign while he was effectively held captive their capital, we can imagine outraged reaction. This is some of the most damaging political interference one state could engage in at the expense of another. The U.S. shouldn’t want a government that does things like this as a client, and it shouldn’t be assisting such a government as it inflicts devastation and starvation on other countries in the region. MBS’ bungling in Lebanon is just the latest reminder that the U.S. should be disentangling itself from the Saudis as quickly as possible.