Lebanon stuck in the middle of Saudi-Iranian rivalry


By declaring his resignation without showing much resistance, the Lebanese prime minister has become the latest victim of the everlasting power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran

It is not too often that a prime minister of a country announces his/her resignation while in another country. Yet contrarily, it's not shocking when it happens in the Middle East. Very recently, we witnessed Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri choose to fly to Saudi Arabia to give his resignation and then stay there for "reasons" unknown.

The situation became even weirder when some people started to claim that Hariri was being held captive in Saudi Arabia. It is not likely, to be honest, as Saudi authorities have no reason to keep him against his will. By handing in his resignation there, all he did was prove that he was working closely with the Saudis.

At the same time, Hariri added that he could possibly take his resignation back if Hezbollah "stops destroying Lebanon." It's hard not to feel sad for Lebanon when its elected leader made this kind of announcement from a foreign country.

It appears here that Hariri tried to reduce Iran's influence over Lebanon and simply failed. You can't blame only him because no one would be able to totally cut historical ties between the two entities in just a few years' time. The folks who asked Hariri to free Lebanon from Iran's manipulation were probably also aware that a prime minister won't be able to do that alone, especially in such a short period of time. No matter what, the issue is bigger than Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia recently launched a transformation initiative which the Saudis call "adopting moderate Islam." This "moderate" qualification is something the Western world has invented and it basically means that Western powers will only be willing to work with "those kind" of countries in the region. In other words, the West justifies its strategic ties with a Muslim country by saying this particular country is "moderate," thus not a threat to the West.

Maybe we must not generalize by saying the West. When the subject is Saudi Arabia, you mostly think of the U.S., which has always taken the Saudis as its privileged partner in the Middle East. Now, in order to make Trump pursue this policy, the Saudis are reiterating they are "moderate," in other words, willing to cooperate with the U.S. against Iran.

Saudi Arabia is indeed fighting across the region to limit Iran's clout in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and now, Lebanon. Israel has remained relatively silent but we all know that there is undeclared cooperation between them and the Saudis against Iran, including in the military domain.

Saudi Arabia is doing everything possible to push Iran back and the ongoing conflict with Qatar is part of this picture. This means the Saudis want Iran to stop their interference in the domestic balances of the Gulf countries but also of Iraq and Lebanon.

Nevertheless, Moscow will not be happy with Iran's retreat from the region and that's why, nowadays, the Saudis and the Israelis are multiplying their contacts with Russia. They are most likely trying to convince Russia that it does not need to cooperate with Iran to be influential in the Middle East and that Saudi Arabia and Israel are both willing to help Moscow on that note.

In a sense, Saudi Arabia is like a ticking bomb that the Pentagon has put into the region. Riyadh's current readiness to intervene militarily in foreign countries like Lebanon proves this fact. The problem is that Tehran will react one way or another. The Saudi-Iran antagonism now has the risk of turning into a direct armed conflict between these two. If that happens, Russia and the U.S. will just sit and watch, keeping their hands clean.

Let's hope there are people in Iran and Saudi Arabia who are able to notice that they are just being used and they will make something to prevent further bloodshed between the Muslim nations. If they can't, it is for sure that such an armed conflict will have no winner when the game ends.

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