The politics of the Middle East have stirred once again as the (former) Prime Minister of Lebanon; Saad al Hariri, resigned from office during his urgent visit to Saudi Arabia. He cited potential threats to his life. Hariri’s resignation effectively plunges the country into political crisis. He blamed Iran-backed Hezbollah, his partners in government, for plotting his assassination.
Hezbollah, Iran and Muslims?
The move astounded many as only a day before his decision, Hariri was witnessed sitting with Hezbollah and Iranian officials in Beirut with an ear-to-ear smile on his face.
The resignation has not only ended a coalition between Sunni and Shiite majorities, but also injected uncertainty into the local and regional politics.
In order to further interpret the current situation of the country and its impacts on the region, it’s necessary for us to know the power players of Lebanon.
Lebanon’s Parliament and Hezbollah
Before the resignation of Hariri, the 128 seats in Lebanon’s parliament were equally divided among Muslims (Shiite and Sunni Muslims), Christians (Maronite and Greek Orthodox Christians), and those affiliated with the Druze faith.
The unnatural alliance of Shiite and Sunni majorities of the country has worked ever since the agreement.
Future Movement: The Hariri-led Future Movement is a Sunni Majority. The party is vocal supporter and ally to Saudi Arabia.
Hezbollah: Hassan Nasrallah leads this Shiite party defamed for its armed wing. They are currently fighting the US, Israel in support of Assad’s regime. Hezbollah forced the Israeli army to withdraw from southern Lebanon, fought Israel in 2006. They are closely allied to Iran.
The arrangement is recognised under a political system forged in line with the 1989’s Taif Agreement.
According to the agreement, Lebanon’s president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament from Shiite community.
Why Riyadh, not Beirut?
Saad preferred Saudi Arabia over Lebanon to announce the resignation. It was followed by the rant against Iran’s meddling in the country and plotting his murder. Without questioning the threat to his life which may be after all a reality, keeping in view the assassination of his father Rafik Hariri in 2005, it is pertinent to focus on Saad’s speaking in Riyadh.
It is most likely more than just a coincidence that Saad’s words were remarkably close to Kingdom’s stance. While sitting in Riyadh, Saad criticised Iran’s increasing influence in the region. He criticised Hezbollah’s role and also demanded the cutting of arms of Iran in the region. This is exactly what the deputy foreign minister of Saudi Arabia tweeted a few days back.
From a certain distance, this appears to be a well-coordinated move in terms of putting Lebanon in the context of regional completion.
Repercussions of Hariri’s Resignation on Lebanon and Hezbollah
Saad al Hariri’s resignation is being anticipated under the Saudi influence. It is nothing but Saudi Arabian strategy to corner Hezbollah in Lebanon and counter the expanding influence of Iran in the Middle East, and pave way for an Arab-Israel alliance.
This may lead to Shiite-Sunni riots in Lebanon to the least and plunge the country into civil war for the worst. The instability may even field for Israel to confront Hezbollah, its potential enemy and create an ultimate opportunity for US and Israel to weaken Syrian government and also push back Russia.
Israel’s Role in Hariri’s Resignation
Israel, which in the past months threatened to go to war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, has hailed Hariri’s decision. A statement issued by the office of Benjamin Netanyahu termed it as a “wake-up call” and urged the international community to take action against Iranian aggression.
Hezbollah’s growing powers in Syria and Lebanon and expanding influence of Iran in the Middle East have acted as a catalyst to bring the two repulsive forces, Saudi Arabia and Israel closer in the region, not to mention the US’ role in the matter. The US, Israel and Saudi troika are now united against Iran.
The Great Game in the Middle East
As the dust has begun to settle, a picture is gradually shaping up on the current scenario of the Middle East politics.
The Jewish son-in-law of US president Donald Trump Jared Kushner, during his unannounced visit to the Middle East, had successfully lobbied to ease down the hostility against Israel. The trip was to reaffirm all the promises Arab countries made to Trump during the US-Arab Islamic conference in Riyadh.
The agenda was to gradually ease decades-long hostility against Israel and to form an Arab-Israel alliance. Interestingly, many Arab countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait and UAE have already agreed to the alliance.
Even Palestinian President Mehmood Abbas is personally in favour of an Arab-Israel alliance, but faces rigid opposition from within his party Al Fatah and also from Hamas.
So, out of four neighbouring countries of Israel, two of them (Egypt and Jordan) are in favour of peace and Syria is in opposition. The fourth one is Lebanon.
While other African-Arab countries such as Tunisia and Sudan preferred to stay neutral, Qatar raised concerns against the alliance, so it was sidelined. Syria and Iraq are also against the idea but both countries are in a state of war, so no potential threat.
But Iran’s increasing influence in the Middle East and its control on Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria offends the eyes of US and Israel.
The Missing Piece of the Hariri’s Resignation Puzzle
So far, we have the statement of Saad Hariri – head of Sunni majority party. We have the version of Saudi Arabia and we have Israel’s call.
The only missing piece in this puzzle is a formal reaction from the United States government, which has been quite assertive towards Iran in the region.
Trump’s take on the issue will confirm the US involvement, which primarily seems to be a Saudi initiative to counter Iran in Lebanon.
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