Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s switch of loyalty to Hizballah and Iran shocks Riyadh and dismays Israel.
The Lebanese Sunni politician and his family have long been inextricably tied to Saudi Arabia and its royal house, as well as professing a pro-West orientation. However, it was suddenly noticed in Riyadh, as well as Jerusalem, that the most devoted Saudi loyalist in Beirut had quietly crossed the lines. Hariri had quietly decided to follow the Iranian star and throw in his political lot with his old enemy, the Shiite Hizballah. And they had promised he would retain the premiership after Lebanon’s May 8 general election, in which their Shiite March 8 Alliance was sure to win a majority in parliament.
Caught unawares by Lebanon’s imminent slide into the Iranian orbit, Saudi rulers hurriedly summoned Hariri to Riyadh. He arrived Wednesday Feb. 28. But it was too late to change him back. The prospect of an Iranian puppet government in Beirut is stunning news for Riyadh, which has traditionally regarded Beirut with its banks and varied luxuries as their back yard. But for Israel, it spells disaster. It means that Iran has succeeded in expanding its ominous, belligerent presence into both of Israel’s northern neighbors, Lebanon as well as Syria.
That the Saudis were caught napping showed in the interview the Washington Post ran Wednesday with Crown Prince Muhamed bin Salman. Referring to Saad Hariri, the prince commented: “Now he is in a better position in Lebanon” – clearly unaware of the shock ahead.
When the Lebanese politician was last summoned to Riyadh five months ago, he landed amid a domestic upheaval – as a result of which he, along with hundreds of Saudi notables, was stripped of his fortune before being allowed to leave. This visit, which Hariri would have preferred to avoid, coincided with another Saudi upheaval, the shakeup of its entire military and defense leadership.
Both these earthshaking Middle East events are examined in detail and analyzed in the coming issue of DEBKA Weekly out on Friday, March 2. If you are not already a subscriber, you can still catch this issue by clicking here.