- Created: Tuesday, 12 December 2017 11:47
- Written by Louis Brehony
President Hariri with Saudi strong man Prince Mohammed Bin Salman days before his 'resignation'
The forced resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Riyadh on 4 November, and its subsequent if temporary retraction on 22 November, reveals the developing rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Bankrolled by Saudi Arabia, Hariri’s leadership has proved incapable of suppressing the anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist movement of Hezbollah. Saudi Arabia and Israel, with the backing of President Trump, are determined to destroy Iranian influence; the imperialists want to maintain their domination of the region and its oil reserves. Louis Brehony reports.
Hariri’s resignation was broadcast on his own Future TV channel as reports were confirmed that he and his family were being held in detention. Although he said during the staged interview that he remained in Saudi Arabia in ‘complete freedom’, the Saudis refused to allow him to use his own film crew. He explained that, ‘I wanted to make a positive shock for the Lebanese people so the people know how dangerous is the situation we are in’ and blamed Hezbollah and Iran for rising regional tensions. Hariri remained in Riyadh for a further two weeks before flying to France on 18 November, finally returning to Lebanon on 22 November.
Saad Hariri is the billionaire son of former Prime Minister Rafiq, assassinated with 21 others in a Beirut car bomb in 2005 – an act blamed on Hezbollah and Syria by their opponents in Lebanon. Saad’s business empire includes investments connected to Saudi Arabia: his company Saudi Oger is facing bankruptcy and employees in Saudi Arabia are threatening action over outstanding wages. Hariri could face court in Riyadh over these accusations but more concerning to the Saudi regime is his political unreliability. On 15 November, Lebanese President Michel Aoun publicly accused the Saudis of holding Hariri under duress, calling this ‘an attack on our independence’. Both Aoun’s Maronite Christian-dominated Free Patriotic Movement and Hariri’s Future Movement had been part of the coalition of anti-Syrian parties formed after the ‘Cedar Revolution’ in 2005. However, Aoun supported the military role of Hezbollah alongside Syrian state forces, which he saw as crucial to preventing the spread of war to Lebanon, while Hariri backed the Syrian opposition.
Crown princes and attack dogs
In October 2017 the White House announced a ‘paradigm shift in how we view Hezbollah’, labelling it a terrorist organisation and a proxy for Iran. The US House Foreign Affairs Committee set bounties for the capture of Hezbollah officials as Republican legislators brought in the ‘Sanctioning Hezbollah’s Illicit use of Civilians as Defenceless Shields Act’, claiming that 100,000 Iranian-supplied rockets and missiles were being hidden in South Lebanon. The Trump administration now says that the ‘war on terror’ began with the 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Beirut, one in a list of attacks that Trump blames on Hezbollah; Lebanese Islamic Jihad actually claimed responsibility for the operation. In July 2017, Trump repeatedly grouped Hezbollah with ISIS and Al Qaeda. Hezbollah representative Mohammad Afif responded in a statement to Newsweek:
‘He probably doesn’t see anything in the region except for Israel and oil tanks... The United States and its regional allies have stood throughout all the years of this current crisis in the Middle East, with Al Nusra, ISIS, and many other terrorist groups that are affiliated with Al Qaeda, whereas Hezbollah was on the front lines defending Lebanon along with the Lebanese army against terrorism and armed terrorist groups’.
Trump’s strategy has nothing to do with fighting terror and everything to do with restoring US dominance of the Middle East. Plans for Iraq have been frustrated by growing Iranian influence with the Baghdad government and in the war on ISIS. The Saudi-funded proxy war on Syria failed to result in regime change as Hezbollah and Iran stood alongside forces loyal to the Ba’athist government. ‘The Americans, the Saudis, the Israelis are all trying to prevent Hezbollah from maximising its gains from the wars in Syria and Iraq,’ writes Hassan Ileik for the pro-Hezbollah newspaper, Al Akhbar. In September, Israel’s Northern Command carried out a large-scale military training exercise for plans to ‘vanquish’ Hezbollah. Reporting on the event, the Israeli paper Haaretz, echoed the fears of a section of the Zionist establishment of a repeat of the 2006 defeat: ‘It’s much easier to declare victory in an exercise than in a war’.
Freezing out Qatar and destroying Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran are part of this imperialist project. Reactionary regimes of various shades are collaborating with the US state, including Sisi’s Egypt and the Jordanian monarchy, also recipients of arms and imperialist troops. On 16 November, IDF chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot gave the first ever interview to a Saudi media outlet, promising that Israel will share intelligence with the Saudis on Iran. Saudi Arabia is now positioning itself as a leading warmonger.
Grabbing the headlines with the 2017 announcement that women would be allowed to drive, Saudi ‘modernisers’ are in ascendancy under the apparently all-powerful Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman. As cosmetic changes gather pace, the Saudi government is waging an internal war on businessmen, princes and ex-ministers for corruption; 200 businessmen imprisoned in the Riyadh Ritz Hotel were reportedly offered release in return for 70% of their wealth. Political enemies and economic rivals of the crown prince are being targeted inside and outside of the kingdom.
A day after Hariri’s resignation broadcast, Houthi fighters in Yemen launched a missile towards Riyadh. Saudi Arabia accused ‘Iran-backed Hezbollah’ of ‘an act of war’. Saudi spokesmen claim that Hezbollah and Houthi rebels in Yemen are ‘proxies’ of Iran and that Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen aims to defeat ‘terrorism’. In September the UN human rights office reported that 5,000 civilians had been killed so far in two and a half years of war. The World Food Programme estimates that 130 or more Yemeni children have died each day of 2017 from hunger, and that 150,000 malnourished children could die in the coming months if the Saudi-led blockade is not lifted. This war is backed by British and US politicians. UK arms and military exports to Saudi Arabia for 2017 amount to £1.1bn; Corbyn’s Labour opposition wants a ‘review’ of these arms sales but does not promise a blanket ban on them.
Lebanon – what next?
Hariri’s chopping and changing is the logical outcome of an era of growing instability in Lebanon, and exposes splits within the Lebanese ruling class. While US imperialism and its regional allies are keen to break Iranian political influence, Saudi war threats have particular economic consequences. Lebanese authorities worry that the 200,000 Lebanese working in Saudi Arabia will be deported and that Saudi investment in Lebanon will be cut. Annual remittances from Lebanese people in Saudi amount to 1,500 times those working in Iran. The value of Lebanese exports to Iran is less than 1% of those to Saudi. There are suggestions that the Saudi regime will attempt to expel Lebanon from the Arab League. Qatar is also attempting to build economic and political links with Lebanon in the face of its own exclusion. High on the agenda of Qatar, Saudi and other players is the fact that Lebanese territory is home to at least $600bn (£460bn) in oil reserves.
Many in Lebanon responded to Hariri’s detention in Riyadh by protesting with the slogan ‘kullna ma’ak’ – ‘we are all with you’. According to political analyst Amal Saad, the Saudi authorities have ‘stripped him (Hariri) of his power’ but this has given him ‘another kind of power... popular legitimacy that he didn’t formerly have’. This legitimacy may be short-lived.
Hariri’s friends are lead singers in the anti-Iran, anti-Hezbollah chorus. Signalling the potential resignation u-turn, he suggested that ‘if I retreat from the resignation we have to agree on a policy of neutrality’ between the various regional powers. The governments of Saudi Arabia, Israel and their US/European backers will not agree: they want to curb Iranian influence and force Hezbollah out of the Lebanese government. Anti-imperialists must organise now to stop the warmongers.
Hands off Lebanon!
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 261 December 2017/January 2018