The Saudi Hand in Lebanon’s Crisis

Facing defeat in its proxy war for “regime change” in Syria, Saudi Arabia undertook some startling moves, including staging the resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister, reports Dennis J Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri meeting with Saudi King Salman, shown in a Twitter post from Nov. 6, 2017.

Last weekend during a visit to Saudi Arabia, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri suddenly and dramatically resigned, raising questions about whether the Saudi leadership was engineering a political crisis in Lebanon as a way to counter the defeat of its jihadist proxies in Syria.

Given the timing and the unusual circumstances — from a fancy hotel in Riyadh — questions also were raised about whether Hariri’s resignation amounted to the kidnapping of the Lebanese leader (who has dual Saudi citizenship) or whether it presaged a new front in the regional wars.

I spoke with Beirut-based Professor, Activist and Environmental Scientist Rania Masri last Monday, while Hariri’s whereabouts and safety were still in question.

Dennis Bernstein: The prime minister of Lebanon has stepped down.  Could you talk a little bit about what provoked that and the significance of that action?

Rania Masri: The prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, was called very suddenly to Saudi Arabia.  He cancelled all his appointments and went on Thursday. [On] Saturday there was a taped broadcast in which he stated that he was resigning as prime minister.  This has never happened in the history of Lebanon.  This is a resignation submitted from outside the country!

Secondly, the statement that he read was clearly not a statement that he wrote.  We know this because of linguistic assessments of the statement and we know this because his brother writes his statements and his brother has been in Lebanon.  It is very clear that this was a resignation forced upon him by the Saudi government.  He has not been answering his phone for the past few days.  Most likely he is locked up in the Ritz Carlton Hotel along with dozens of other influential Saudi princes and businessmen who are under arrest there.  The president has asked him to return to Lebanon before the resignation becomes finalized.

Saad al-Hariri  read the letter of resignation on Saturday.  He said that he is forced to resign because of Iranian intervention in Lebanon.  Imagine, to leave the country and go to Saudi Arabia to resign because of another country’s intervention in your home country!  He also claims in the statement that Hezbollah is an Iranian tool and that Iranian hands must be cut off by all means necessary.  It was basically very threatening language against Lebanon.

Since then, Saudi minister Sabhan–who many believe wrote the statement for Hariri–has stated that Lebanon must decide between peace and keeping Hezbollah in the government.  He continues to say that as long as Hezbollah is present in the Lebanese government, he will consider that the Lebanese government is at war with Saudi Arabia.  So here we have a minister from Saudi Arabia openly declaring war on the entire country of Lebanon!

Dennis Bernstein: The simple explanation in the Western corporate press is that Hariri was afraid he would face the same fate as his father, who was assassinated.

Rania Masri: That has no basis in fact.  There are three types of intelligence services in Lebanon, each of which is aligned to a different political party.  All have agreed that there is no evidence of any assassination plot against Hariri or anyone else in Lebanon.  At the same time, no one has been able to reach him on the phone since Friday.  He can’t really believe that anyone is going to kill him if he answers the phone!

Dennis Bernstein: Should we be thinking about this in the context of this extraordinary shake-up in Saudi Arabia?

Rania Masri: One hundred percent.  The day before Saad Hariri was called to Saudi Arabia, he was speaking positively of the Lebanese government.  There was no discord within the government.  Then he gets called to Saudi Arabia, disappears for a day and issues this resignation on a taped broadcast.  At the same time, we have the capture and arrest of these very influential multi-millionaires in Saudi Arabia, all thrown into this same hotel.

We have to remember that Saad Hariri also has Saudi Arabian citizenship, that he and his family have had investments in Saudi Arabia since the early 1970’s.  He may be held liable to Saudi law, particularly if he loses his diplomatic immunity with his resignation.  So at the very least we know that he did not issue his resignation because of an internal Lebanese problem.  It is no coincidence that we now have this shake-up in Saudi Arabia to cement financial and military and political power all in one man.

Dennis Bernstein: This would be an extremely bold action on the part of the Saudis, one which almost certainly was not taken without the knowledge of the United States government.  You have the US flooding Saudi Arabia with weapons so that they can tighten their grip in Yemen.

Rania Masri: Trump has been saluting the Saudi regime.  After what has been happening the past few days, he actually tweeted that he would like Aramco to move its headquarters to New York and be part of the New York Stock Exchange, that this would serve US interests.

No, I don’t think the Saudi regime began this shake-up without the US administration’s blessing.  Some have even taken it a step further and say that this is not a Saudi-imposed resignation but an Israeli-imposed resignation presented via the Saudis.  There are several different analyses you can make, but what is clear is that our prime minister issued his resignation while out of the country and has not been available for communication ever since.

The Saudi regime has been escalating its war in Yemen without any political victory in sight, it was the main financier behind the ISIS terrorists in Syria with the specific purpose of destroying Damascus, and now has set its sights on Lebanon.

Dennis Bernstein: How do we find out at this point what is really going on?

Rania Masri: Given its record in the region, I don’t think we should be calling in the United Nations.  Remember that the United Nations Security Council imposed genocidal sanctions on Iraq for twelve years.  In no way, as a person from this region, would I be reaching out to the UN.

What is needed is for Hariri to return to Lebanon and, if he wants to resign, he can do it from the safety of his home here.  What is also needed is for the media, particularly in the West, to clearly recognize what is happening.  These are not changes for democracy and against corruption in Saudi Arabia, as has been promoted by The Guardian, among others.

Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah.

It’s important to recognize that when Hezbollah is threatened, all Lebanon is threatened.  Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization within the country, Hezbollah is a legitimate political party, a legitimate resistance movement, it is part and parcel of the fabric of this country.  What the Saudis are calling for is that the Lebanese relinquish what is left of our sovereignty and to sacrifice our main means of protecting ourselves against Israeli aggression.

Remember that it was Hezbollah that fought to liberate the south of Lebanon from the 22-year occupation of the Israelis.  It was Hezbollah who defeated Israeli in the 2006 war.  And because of that, since 2006, Israel has not launched another military aggression against this country, even though they typically do so every three years.

And for Saudi Arabia to threaten Lebanon that either we disarm and remove Hezbollah as a legitimate political party or we will face Saudi repercussions is basically having us choose between a war with Saudi Arabia or being defenseless and broken.  Saudi Arabia has the means to cause assassinations, to launch terrorist campaigns, to wage economic warfare against the country, but they do not have the means to break the back of the Lebanese people.

Dennis Bernstein: You alluded to the invisible hand of Israel.

Rania Masri: Benjamin Netanyahu has been gleeful ever since the Saudi statements and he has been promoting it as a further reason for the international community to attack and isolate Iran and to dismantle Hezbollah.  We already know that this Saudi regime and the Israeli regime are in cahoots.  So it comes as no surprise for the Israeli government to be the first to welcome these Saudi statements.

The Saudis seem to have forgotten who the real enemy is in the region and to have accepted a false sectarian discourse that the enemy is Iran and the Shias.  Well, we all know that the enemy of the region is Zionism, a philosophy built on apartheid that continues to seek expansionist means, that continues to promote ethnic cleansing and genocide against Palestinians.

Dennis Bernstein: What are you watching now, what are your concerns?

Rania Masri: People from various political spectrums in the country have been re-tweeting the statement of the Saudi Arabian Minister of State for Gulf Affairs and basically consider this a declaration of war.  We are watching the news, we are following the situation very closely.  We are making a lot of jokes about what is happening because that is how we deal with it.  But we are also following the advice of Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, who has advised us to be calm and to wait a few days until we understand what has been happening.  Nasrallah will speak again on Friday [Nov. 10] and respond to the specific content of the letter presented to us on Saturday.

Dennis Bernstein: How does Syria play into all of this?

Rania Masri: The way the Saudi government is behaving is like a cat in a corner.  It is important to stress that the Saudi Arabian plan in Syria failed miserably.  They were not able to destroy Damascus, they were not able to break the country apart, they were not able to dismantle the Syrian regime.  They were able to contribute to the destruction and to the many massacres at the hands of ISIS.

We are dealing with a country with a great deal of financial and military power but whose plans in the region have failed.  Now it is looking to completely destroy the resistance movement in Lebanon, particularly because Hezbollah also played a part in standing against ISIS in Syria.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.

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24 comments for “The Saudi Hand in Lebanon’s Crisis

  1. Abe
    November 10, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who announced his resignation last week in a televised address from Riyadh, has yet to return to Lebanon.

    On 10 November, Lebanese President Michel Aoun met with the International Support Group (ISG) for Lebanon, whose members include the United States, Russia and France.

    Following the meeting of ISG members, Aoun stressed the importance of restoring “vital balance” of state institutions in Lebanon, and welcomed “the call of the president for Prime Minister Hariri to return to Lebanon”.

    The ISG appealed in a joint statement for Lebanon to “continue to be shielded from tensions in the region.”

    Speaking in Beirut on 10 November, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said Hariri is being prevented by Saudi officials from returning to Lebanon, which is why “we deem the resignation of Hariri illegal and invalid”.

    “All of a sudden, out of nowhere, Saudi Arabia called the prime minister on urgent matter without his aide or advisers, and was forced to tender his resignation, and to read the resignation statement written by them,” Nasrallah said.

    Nasrallah accused Riyadh of “blunt, unprecedented interference” in the internal political affairs of Lebanon.

    “We declare that the prime minister of Lebanon has not resigned,” he said. “Saad Hariri is our political opponent, but he is also our prime minister.”

    Nasrallah also said “Lebanon had enjoyed unprecedented stability over the past year”, and appealed for unity throughout the country.

    Aoun and Hariri are part of a unity government that also includes rival political factions such as those supported by Hezbollah.

    In a statement on Friday issued following Nasrallah’s televised address, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cautioned against using Lebanon “as a venue for proxy conflicts”.

    Tillerson urged “all parties both within Lebanon and outside to respect the integrity and independence of Lebanon’s legitimate national institutions”.

    As Rania Masri pointed out in the interview, “the Saudi regime and the Israeli regime are in cahoots”.

    The United States is the third leg of the Israeli-Saudi-US Axis that has deployed terrorist forces, including Al Qaeda and ISIS, in an effort to dismember the Syrian state and generally wreak havoc across the Middle East.

  2. Annie
    November 10, 2017 at 10:41 pm

    I enjoyed this article because Ms. Masri’s answers were clear and to the point, however I have no doubt Israel is behind all of it. They have also been on the losing side of things, and as their military intelligence chief once remarked that Israel didn’t want ISIS defeated in Syria. I’m sure they even supported ISIS militarily as did Saudi Arabia. Israel has the most to gain with their desire to expand their control into southern Lebanon and only Hezbollah stands in their way. That old expression you really are only as good as the company you keep, tells you a lot about who we are as a country.

  3. Abe
    November 10, 2017 at 10:48 pm

    The Israeli hand in Lebanon’s crisis cannot be denied.

    After Israel’s first military invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Israel continued occupying southern Lebanon from 1985 to 2000. After the last Israeli troops left Lebanon in 2000, Israel continued to systematically violate Lebanese territory.

    Nabih Berri, Speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon, noted the Lebanese had violated the Blue Line less than 100 times between 2000 and 2006, while “the number of Israeli violations was 11,782 times, by air, sea and land” during the same time.

    Six months before Israel’s second military invasion of Lebanon, Lebanese President Michel Aoun with Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in Mar Mikhayel Church, Chiyah. The venue symbolizes Christian-Muslim coexistence as the Church, located in the heart of the mainly Muslim Beirut southern suburb, was preserved throughout the wars.

    The Memorandum of Understanding with Hezbollah organized relations between the Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanon’s largest Christian political party, and the Hezbollah Islamic party.

    Hezbollah’s conditions for agreement included the return of Lebanese prisoners from Israeli jails and the elaboration of a defense strategy to protect Lebanon from the Israeli threat. The agreement also emphasized the importance of having normal diplomatic relations with Syria.

    Since the the Syrian military departure from Lebanon in 2005, Aoun has been seeking to improve his country’s relationship with Syria. He has treated all Lebanese parties as potential partners in the process of change and reform of the country. The Memorandum of Understanding with Hezbollah enters in this context.

    It is important to note that Hezbollah is opposed by all the Israeli-Saudi-US Axis-backed terrorist groups fighting against the people of Syria: Al-Nusra Front and all Al-Qaeda affiliates, ISIS, and the so-called Free Syrian Army.

    Israel continues to routinely violate the territorial sovereignty of Lebanon and Syria, and has prepared to launch a long-planned attack on both countries.

    Israel rejects the right of neighboring nations to conduct their own affairs and organize their own defense against Israeli aggression.

    Israel’s upcoming third military invasion of Lebanon adds to the list of flagrant Israeli violations of international law.

    The next war Israeli war of aggression against both Lebanon and Syria is backed by Saudi Arabia and, like all previous Israeli invasions of Lebanon, equipped and enabled by the United States.

  4. November 10, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    It has become apparent that war will break out in Lebanon and the U.S. will do everything to facilitate Israeli/Saudi aggression. What remains unclear is who if any will speak out against this aggression in Congress with the ghost of Iraq so visible in the rear view mirror.

    • Annie
      November 10, 2017 at 11:21 pm

      No one, since our agenda in the Middle East converges with that of Israel, and Saudi Arabia, our friends in the middle east. It’s just that old neocon agenda playing itself out. We never seem to learn that Israel’s interests are not in our best interest, and maybe we don’t , because they have to much control over our politicians. Wasn’t it Sheldon Adelson who backed Trump’s campaign.

      • November 11, 2017 at 12:14 pm

        Annie, ,,,you may well be right, but I still cling to hope, the only item left in Pandora’s box after she released all the evils of this world. I also remember the Senate filibusters of Wayne Morse against the Vietnam War….no delusions here, but give us at least one Cassandra in congress to speak out!

  5. john wilson
    November 11, 2017 at 6:12 am

    No one has mentioned the remnants of ISIS here, who although defeated in Syria are by no means a spent force. I can’t believe that Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Americans will just let them go to waste. Even at this moment you can be sure they will be preparing to go into Lebanon which will be facilitated by Israeli and American special forces. Any minute now we will hear about popular unrest among the people of Lebanon who will miraculously acquire sophisticated arms and suddenly grow long beards.

  6. john wilson
    November 11, 2017 at 6:57 am

    The sudden scripted resignation of the Lebanese prime minister and his arrival and arrest in Saudi Arabia, has all the hall marks of another ‘Archduke Franz Ferdinand’ about it. In other words, an excuse for war with Iran. I suspect the idea of the Israel, Saudi Arabia and the American Neocons, is to attack Lebanon and thereby provoke Iran into coming to their aid. Thus a war has been engineered which I suspect has been the plan all along. As I mentioned in another post, ISIS although but defeated in Syria, is by no means a spent force and the Saudi’s, Israel and the American Neocons won’t let this asset go to waste. You can be sure there will suddenly be hoards of people on the streets of Lebanon of so called protesters who will be miraculously carry sophisticated weapons and all have long beards. ISIS will be back in business again and another country is about to be destroyed with millions of dead people to boot! Things are looking up for the American arms industry again!

    • Realist
      November 11, 2017 at 9:28 am

      I don’t think that the Saudis have the ability to project the necessary force to defeat or severely damage Lebanon, or even decimate Hezbollah within Lebanon. Look at the trouble they are having trying to put down Yemen, even with American assistance.

      The desired result will take the participation of the Israeli Offense Forces and, probably, also that of the United States’ government. It will be a pretext to extend the conflict to Iran, which is the ultimate target (short of Russia), with the full participation of the entire Zionist Axis of Evil.

      Of course, even a full-blown all-out shooting war will not resolve the Sunni-Shia conflict which has been simmering for a millennium and a half at this point in time. It will not ultimately serve the ends of the Wahabi Islamic fundamentalists who drive the conflict, but it will serve the intents of the Israeli-American Zionist axis to basically destroy modern civilisation throughout the Middle East and leave the survivors so weakened and pauperized that none of them will be able to soon rebuild and buck the economic interests of Washington.

      Ever since Afghanistan and Iraq, Washington has not made the mistake of following up its campaigns of total war with occupation and nation building. The second half of that combo is simply too expensive, both in terms of money and political capital amongst American voters.

      So, the American military is now simply charged with totally trashing other societies, leaving them in the form of dying prey for American vulture capitalists to feast upon. See what Washington has done more recently in Libya and Syria. Even hands-on by the American military is more limited, allowing most of the dirty work to be done by proxies (the British and French in Libya; half the Islamic World, including disaffected Muslims from the West, in Syria). It’s biggest investment of American personnel are mostly special ops agents, who are literally everywhere on the face of the planet, presently carrying out active operations in 70% of the sovereign nations on all earth.

      The ultimate goal for Washington in this whole imbroglio is to leave Iran’s major cities and industrial centers in the form of smoking ruins, which they plan to do slowly and methodically, not with boots on the ground, but through incessant bombardment, first with missiles and later with fighter bombers after Iran’s air defenses are eventually taken out. If Iran fights back hard, damages Israel or receives significant aid from Russia (like S-500’s), that will be a pretext to intensify the effort and expand the battlefield, perhaps to Russia itself.

      But the plan is not to bring freedom and democracy to Iran, or to rebuild for them what we wantonly destroy. It is to eliminate a political dissenter and competitor in the energy sector. We will not go in there to stabilise or rebuild the country, and it will be impossible to impose another American puppet regime upon the people. If the Saudis also suffer collateral damage in the conflict, so much the better, as that will open up even more markets for American shale oil and liquefied natural gas. It’s how we roll now. The world can suck on it. It will not stop until the empire collapses from within due to monumental hubris and overreach.

      • mike k
        November 11, 2017 at 11:45 am

        A grim and not improbable scenario, Realist. Playing war games on the brink of apocalypse will likely trigger the unspeakable, and end our adventures in hubris and brinksmanship forever……..

      • Zachary Smith
        November 11, 2017 at 5:38 pm

        I don’t think that the Saudis have the ability to project the necessary force to defeat or severely damage Lebanon, or even decimate Hezbollah within Lebanon.

        I don’t either, but they have a lot of cash money, and with the arrest and torture of Saudi billionaires they could conceivably raise nearly a trillion dollars more. Some nations are especially “easy” when cash is waved in their direction. I don’t do “tweeting”, and don’t have any way of verifying this claim, but it sounds plausible.

        #Nasrallah today: I have information that says #SaudiArabia offered #Israel billions of dollars in exchange for bombing #Hezbollah and #Lebanon. Also Saudi incitement played a major role in 2006 war against Hezbollah

        Being paid huge sums of money to do exactly what you want to do? That could have been true in 2006, and it could be true in 2017. I’m reading that the right wing and religious crazies in Israel are frothing at the mouth to have another “go” at Lebanon. If Saudi Arabia is offering tens of billions of dollars for this to happen, resistance is going to be minimal, IMO. If the money is good enough, Israel might ignore predictions like this:

        Israel To “Suffer Substantial Casualties” In Case Of Confrontation With Hezbollah – Russia’s Ambassador In Lebanon

        The average wealthy Israeli is more likely to have a deeper shelter than the peasants, and is much more likely to be taking a vacation in a faraway land during a war.

        • natoistan
          November 11, 2017 at 9:13 pm

          Putin may help both beyrouth and Iran by providing Lebanon(without using the word hezbollah)with S-400 along the border with Israel.End of the war before it ever started.Game over.

        • Seer
          November 11, 2017 at 10:38 pm

          I was waiting to hit the end of the comments so I could ask how Russia could play into any of this. Zach, you answered it!

          Russia isn’t going to sit back. As natoistan remarks, it (Russia involvement) could mean “Game over” before it even starts.

  7. mike k
    November 11, 2017 at 7:36 am

    How ironic, and yet predictable that America has become the leading force of Evil in the world.

    • Realist
      November 11, 2017 at 9:35 am

      And, as an American citizen, it’s in your name, Mike. Mine too, which is why I so resent what these traitors and usurpers are doing to our country and its reputation.

      • mike k
        November 11, 2017 at 11:50 am

        If they were to do these things in my name, it would just be another lie – I gave up any pride in this country’s shameful actions long ago, and give what energy I have to fighting against all the enemies of Humankind, nonviolently.

    • Annie
      November 11, 2017 at 10:36 am

      I remember that earlier in the year Hariri was warning that Israel wanted war with Lebanon and spoke about Israel’s continuous violations of their airspace. I have no doubt that Israel is behind all of this, and Saudi Arabia, equally despicable, is all to willing to comply, as is the US. I see Israel as the greater evil, and the neocons who exert so much power on our foreign policies will pull us into further war. We have become crazy as hell.

  8. Liam
    November 11, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Massive White Helmets Photo Cache Proves Hollywood Gave Oscar to Terrorist Group

    https://clarityofsignal.com/2017/02/27/massive-white-helmets-photo-cache-proves-hollywood-gave-oscar-to-terrorist-group/

    “Now You See Me” – Over 100 White Helmet Self-Posted Facebook Images Expose Fake Humanitarian Group as FSA Terrorists Linked with Al-Qaeda

    https://clarityofsignal.com/2017/05/01/now-you-see-me-over-100-white-helmet-self-posted-facebook-images-expose-fake-humanitarian-group-as-fsa-terrorists-in-bed-with-al-qaeda/

  9. mike k
    November 11, 2017 at 10:33 am

    The problem so easily ignored is that we are witnessing not only the collapse of the American Empire, but the even more decisive collapse of Industrial Civilization and the Planetary Ecosystem, upon which we all depend for our continued existence.

  10. mike k
    November 11, 2017 at 10:38 am

    When the end stages of collapse are in motion and finally evident to even the most sanguine, then it will become clear that the real issue is not who will rule the world after the global free for all is concluded, but whether anyone will survive on the devastated radioactive wasteland that remains of our once beautiful planet……

  11. mike k
    November 11, 2017 at 10:41 am

    And do you think ANYONE will take responsibility for our demise? No, that will not happen, nor will it make any difference if it did – too late for recriminations then……

  12. David G
    November 11, 2017 at 11:50 am

    “I spoke with Beirut-based Professor, Activist and Environmental Scientist Rania Masri last Monday, while Hariri’s whereabouts and safety were still in question.”

    Are they less in question now? I see Reuters today reports that Pres. Aoun officially says Hariri is in a “dubious and mysterious situation”, and unofficially has been telling foreign ambassadors that it is a kidnapping.

    • mike k
      November 11, 2017 at 11:55 am

      No doubt Hariri was made an offer ‘that he could not refuse.” The Saudi Kingdom is nothing but a scene of competing Mafias.

  13. November 13, 2017 at 11:52 am

    The funny aspect of the situation is that the “crisis in Lebanon” is very mild. The country is in practice a confederation of loosely cooperating pieces, and a crisis emerges when those pieces cannot agree on something essential, like opening permanent trash disposal sites (or worse, but the trash crisis, apparently resolved, was one of the worst Lebanon suffered in the last decade), This is an alarming situation reported by a pro-Saudi Lebanese newspaper:

    Brooke Anderson| The Daily Star
    Much of the progress in Lebanon’s oil and gas sector will be lost unless a new government is formed in the next 240 days, meaning time is of the essence to save what little headway has been made, experts say.

    On one hand, formation of a new government often takes more time in Lebanon, on the other, nothing much will happen if it takes longer. The biggest change is that Saudi’s are now internally fractured, and the carrier as their puppet is less enticing than ever (and there were serious problems already). Correspondingly, the quality of those puppets will deteriorate further.

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