Sidelined in Syria, Saudis Target Hizballah on Its Lebanese Home Ground
Frustrated by setbacks in Yemen and sidelined in the Syrian war, Saudi Arabia has opened a desperate new front targeting the pro-Iranian Lebanese Hizballah.
After being pushed by Riyadh, the Gulf Cooperation Council emirates agreed on March 2 to list Hizballah as a terrorist organization, accused of “recruiting young people for terrorist attacks,” the day after Hassan Nasrallah accused Riyadh of pressuring Lebanon to muzzle his organization.
The Saudis are striking out now, because they sense they are being pushed into a corner by new, ominous steps pursued by Hizballah on behalf of Tehran.
After failing to beat the Islamic Republic in battles in Yemen, Syria or Iraq, the oil kingdom is targeting Hizballah as Iran’s surrogate. This is how they view the relationship between Iran and its Lebanese minion.
2. Hizballah receives an annual stipend from Iran of $900 million, according to Saudi intelligence.
3. By serving as Iran’s front man and muscle, the Lebanese Shiites save Tehran from having to plunge directly into combat with “boots on the ground.”
According to the same line of reasoning, Israel goes for Hizballah targets in Syria rather than the Iranian military presence there. Taking a leaf out of Israel’s book, Riyadh has set its sights on Lebanon, which is under Hizballah’s thumb, rather than directly confronting the Revolutionary Guards.
4. Hizballah is training a new Yemeni Houthi militia, dubbed by Iran “Ansar Allah,” on the southern Saudi border.
5. On the kingdom’s eastern border, Hizballah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps have established a base at the Iraqi town of An-Nakhib, according to the London-based, Saudi owned Arshaq al-Awsat newspaper.
This base is viewed in Riyadh as a dangerous jumping-off point for pushing pro-Saudi Sunni tribes out of the western Iraqi province of Anbar and carving out a Shiite corridor that would run from the Syrian border through Anbar to the Shiite stronghold of Karbala in southern Iraq.
Tehran has made more than one attempt to open this corridor through Sunni-dominated Anbar without success
The Saudi kingdom is beginning to feel squeezed by Iran, its surrogates and its aspirations for Shiite dominance from two directions – Yemen and Iraq.
Riyadh started hitting back this week, first through diplomatic action by the GCC, then by announcing the cutoff of $4 billion worth of aid to Lebanon’s security forces on the following grounds:
a) Hassan Nasrallah is taking advantage of weak central government in Beirut to make himself the strongman of Lebanon’s armed forces’ general staff.
b) Hizballah will certainly help itself to a share of Saudi aid funds.
c) After the Obama administration warned the Saudis to stay out of Syria and not to dare upset the two-week ceasefire negotiated with Russia, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman cast his eye on Lebanon for counteracting Hizballah and Iran’s schemes:
His plan is to turn Lebanese Sunnis and Christians against the Shiite Hizballah, in the same way as Iran and Hizballah are turning Yemeni Houthis and Iraqi Shiites in Iraq against Saudi Arabia.
It is in this context that four Saudi F-16 warplanes arrived at Turkey’s Incirlik air base this week and Saudi officials talked about the possible deployment of ground troops to Turkey, ostensibly to fight ISIS.
The Saudi prince’s plan carries the high risk of pitching Lebanon into yet another of its endemic civil wars, in the view of DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources, – with low prospects of achieving its purpose.