In a sudden about-face, the Saudis Monday, Oct. 25, urged Lebanon's pro-Western Prime Minister Saad Hariri to step down without delay and make way for an administration dominated by pro-Syrian ministers and Hizballah. King Abdullah, according to debkafile's Middle East and Beirut sources, sees no other way of saving Lebanon from tipping over into civil strife over Hizballah's demand to disband the international tribunal probing the 2005 murder of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.
Last week, Hariri confided to US Deputy Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman he was close to resigning and giving way to the Saudi King, long a friend of the Hariri family, now siding with its antagonists. When Riyadh saw he was sticking to his guns, the Saudi mouthpiece Asharq al-Awsat published an article of a sort rarely seen in the Arab media telling the Lebanese prime minister in no uncertain terms that he had choice in the matter. Chief Editor Tariq Alhomayed warned Saad Hariri that he had run out of options and the only thing left him was to follow his father's example and resign as prime minister as Rafiq Hariri did in late 2004.
(A few months later, Rafiq Hariri was assassinated in Beirut.)
"Afterwards," said Alhomayed, "you will become, wherever you may be, a sanctuary" because only then will the Lebanese public and Arab leaders appreciate the threat against them.
debkafile's sources spell out this "threat" as the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah conspiracy to break up the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in time to pre-empt the indictments of nine senior Hizballah security officials for involvement in the assassination due to be published before the end of the year.
Asharq al-Awsat acknowledged that no Lebanese leader stepping into Hariri's shoes would be able to invalidate the tribunal's legitimacy or dismantle it because this would condemn Lebanon to the anarchy of civil war. Nonetheless, the writer stood by the demand for Hariri to remove himself from office without delay as the only viable option left in the unfolding crisis.
Our sources note that a new Lebanese government under the thumb of Damascus and Hizballah will waste no time in annulling the tribunal and so be free to parrot the Hizballah charge that Israeli intelligence was behind the Hariri murder. When the tribunal asked Hizballah for evidence of its charge earlier this year, it received no answer. Raising it again may well have the effect of precipitating a renewed Lebanese-Israeli clash of arms which a new government would not raise a finger to prevent.
Also Monday, it was reported in Beirut that two employees of the Lebanese Alfa cell phone company had provided evidence under questioning that for the thirty-two days of the 2006 Lebanon War Israel had controlled the company's exchanges.
debkafile's intelligence sources report that Hizballah is laying the ground for the speech its secretary Hassan Nasrallah is preparing to deliver in the coming days. He has promised to produce evidence that Israel was responsible for the Hariri murder and trumped up a case against Syria and Hizballah by means of its command of Lebanon's telephone system.