Reuters reports that Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is not being allowed to leave Saudi Arabia following his “resignation” in Riyadh:
Lebanon believes Saad al-Hariri, who resigned as prime minister on Saturday while in Saudi Arabia, is being held by Riyadh, and Beirut plans to work with foreign states to secure his return, a top Lebanese government official said on Thursday.
A second source, a senior politician close to Saudi-allied Hariri, said Saudi Arabia had ordered him to resign and put him under house arrest. A third source familiar with the situation said Saudi Arabia was controlling and limiting his movement.
Like other Saudi power plays in the region, this one already seems to have failed. Just as the attempt to force Qatar to downgrade its relationship with Iran produced the opposite result, the apparent effort to put more pressure on Hezbollah isn’t having the desired effect inside Lebanon. Instead, the Saudis have managed to unite most Lebanese against their interference. Aurelie Daher analyzes the strange resignation and its consequences:
One thing is certain. The Saudi initiative was part of a larger plan to send a strong message to both Saudi and regional audiences: Hariri’s resignation, the arrest of dozens of princes and ministers, and the blockade on Yemen were coordinated to give the world a clear image of Saudi Arabia’s new posture.
In Lebanon however, things are already backfiring. The Saudi move had an unexpected result. Whereas Sunnis and Shias in Lebanon have seemed for the last 10 years incapable of sharing common ground on regional alliances, the “kidnapping” of their prime minister at the hands of his own Saudi boss managed to infuriate Hariri’s own community [bold mine-DL]. On Sunday, Hariri’s party even praised Hassan Nasrallah, calling him a “responsible man” who placed above all the country’s “national interest,” a first in more than 10 years.
The danger in all this is that the Saudis are looking for a pretext to ignite a new conflict, and they are trying to destabilize Lebanon to that end. It is with good reason that Paul Pillar dubbed Saudi Arabia the “wellspring of regional instability” yesterday, since this is what they have been in recent years:
The apparent Saudi intention is to stir the Lebanese pot in a way that somehow would be disadvantageous to Hezbollah, which is a partner in the governing Lebanese coalition. But all the move has done so far is to make Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah look honest and perceptive in noting the Saudi role in the move, and to make him look reasonable in being the one who wants stability in coalition politics in Lebanon rather than seeking crisis and confrontation.
Each time that Salman and MBS have tried to counter Iranian influence, real or imagined, they have managed to do harm to almost everyone except Iran. Contra Trump, they have no idea what they’re doing, and in the process they are stoking tensions and creating instability throughout the region.