Lebanon Emerges From Crisis With Iran on Top

Lebanon Emerges From Crisis With Iran on Top

Iran's allies in Lebanon have emerged even stronger from a crisis triggered by Saudi Arabia, which achieved little more than to force the Saudis' main Lebanese ally, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, closer to Tehran's friends in Beirut.

Saudi Arabia aimed to hurt Iran in Lebanon by forcing Hariri's resignation on Nov. 4 and torpedoing his coalition deal with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its allies, using its influence over the Sunni leader to cause trouble for the Shia group.

Instead, the move backfired as western states censured Riyadh over a step they feared would destabilize Lebanon, despite their shared concerns over the regional role of the heavily armed Hezbollah, Reuters wrote in a Thursday article.

Hariri revoked his resignation on Tuesday, drawing a line under the crisis caused by his announcement from Riyadh. Lebanese officials say he was put under house arrest before French intervention led to his return home. Riyadh and Hariri deny this.

  Risks Remain

But while the crisis has abated, its causes, namely Hezbollah's growing military influence in the region and Saudi Arabia's determination to counter Iran, seem likely to bring more trouble Lebanon's way sooner or later.

Hariri has identified possible Persian Gulf Arab sanctions as a major risk to the Lebanese economy. Analysts also see a risk of another war with Hezbollah's old foe, Israel, which is alarmed by the group's strength in Lebanon and Syria.

The episode also leaves big questions over Lebanese politics, long influenced by Saudi Arabia, a patron of the Lebanese Sunni community.

One senior Lebanese politician said the experience had "left a big scar" on Hariri, once the "the spiritual son of Saudi Arabia".

"After this, it will not be easy to have a normal relationship again," he said.

Meeting on Tuesday for the first time since the resignation, Hariri's government indirectly acknowledged Saudi concerns over Hezbollah's role outside Lebanon. At Hariri's behest, it reaffirmed its policy of staying out of Arab conflicts.

A top Lebanese official said western pressure forced Saudi Arabia to retreat from its Lebanon plan but further Saudi moves could not be ruled out.

"Can we restrain Saudi from going toward madness? In my view, no."

A western diplomat said Saudi measures targeting the Lebanese economy were "a genuine possibility" at some point though the international community would likely try to influence how tough any sanctions would be.

"I think the Saudis have understood from the international reaction that Lebanon isn't a pitch on which they are playing alone. There are other players who have interests who don't want to see those undermined," the diplomat said.


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