Tuesday, 7 November 2017

On The Verge Of Catastrophe in Lebanon

On The Verge Of Catastrophe: Saudi Arabia Says Lebanon Declared War

6 November, 2017


As expected, Saudi Arabia has cast itself as the victim of external Shia plotting after its internal weekend of chaos which included a missile attack from Yemen, the deaths of two princes and other high officials within a mere 24 hours, and an aggressive crackdown against dissent in the royal family which saw close to a dozen princes placed under house arrest. And as Al Jazeera noted, in this Saudi version of 'Game of Thrones', the 32-year-old Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) shows that he is willing to throw the entire region into jeopardy to wear the royal gown.


While Saudi Arabia has long blamed Iran for sowing unrest in the region, this evening's declaration by Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan that Lebanon has "declared war" against the kingdom is truly an historic first. But perhaps the biggest problem is that international media is currently uncritically spreading the statement, whereas what such a bizarre claim actually warrants is laughter. Thankfully, Nassim Nicholas Taleb sums it up nicely with a basic geography lesson: "Either the media is stupid, or Saudi rulers are stupid, or both. Lebanon did not formally declare war and there is no common border."


Still image taken from a video distributed by Yemen’s pro-Houthi Al Masirah television station, which purports to show the ballistic missile previously launched at Saudi Arabia.

With that in mind, here is the statement currently making headlines as reported by Reuters:





Saudi Arabia said on Monday that Lebanon had declared war against it because of attacks against the Kingdom by the Lebanese Shi‘ite group Hezbollah.
Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan told Al-Arabiya TV that Saad al-Hariri, who announced his resignation as Lebanon’s prime minister on Saturday, had been told that acts of “aggression” by Hezbollah “were considered acts of a declaration of war against Saudi Arabia by Lebanon and by the Lebanese Party of the Devil”.


Though clearly absurd (that Lebanon has declared war on KSA), the statement is driven by legitimate and deep-rooted fear, for not only has Hezbollah transformed itself into a Middle East powerhouse whose influence has grown vastly in the midst of the Syrian war, but it has transitioned into a quasi-state which has gained the respect of Lebanese and Arabs across the region. As we've noted many times before, it is fear of Hezbollah and its increasingly broad acceptance and legitimacy within Lebanese state institutions that also drives heightened Israeli rhetoric and bellicosity of late, which has once again "surprisingly" found itself on the same side as Saudi Arabia.


And at a moment that Israel has begun massive war games, and as MBS continues his purge toward total consolidation of power over the kingdom, both unlikely bedfellows continue their war of words against Hezbollah. It's no secret that common cause in Syria of late has led the historic bitter enemies down a pragmatic path of unspoken cooperation as both seem to have placed the break up of the so-called "Shia crescent" as their primary policy goal in the region. But that's perhaps why few pundits seemed overly shocked when Israeli media reported in early September that bin Salman may have made a secret visit to Israel, in spite of the fact that the kingdom does not recognize the Jewish state, and the two sides do not have diplomatic relations.

Will the current chaotic trajectory of things and unholy alliance between the Saudis and Israelis place Lebanon in the cross hairs of yet another Israeli-Hezbollah war? While we've recently addressed this question, this new and erratic Saudi declaration certainly puts the region a big step closer to such a war becoming a reality.

Though this question of the looming specter of an Israeli-Lebanese War (which would surely involve the Saudis aiding Israel politically inside Lebanon) has been addressed many times over of late, the real question, which isn't often analyzed, is the true military capabilities of Hezbollah. What has both Israel and the Saudis worried is the fact that the Syrian war has possibly strengthened Hezbollah, not weakened it. 
In a follow up article we will disect Hezbollah's military capabilities, and its role in Lebanese society.

Saudi Arabia says Lebanon declares war, deepening crisis


7 November, 2017

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia accused Lebanon on Monday of declaring war against it because of aggression by the Iran-backed Lebanese Shi‘ite group Hezbollah, a dramatic escalation of a crisis threatening to destabilize the tiny Arab country.

Lebanon has been thrust to the center of regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran since the Saudi-allied Lebanese politician Saad al-Hariri quit as prime minister on Saturday, blaming Iran and Hezbollah in his resignation speech.

Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan said the Lebanese government would “be dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia” because of what he described as aggression by Hezbollah.

Faulting the Hariri-led administration for failing to take action against Hezbollah during a year in office, Sabhan said “there are those who will stop (Hezbollah) and make it return to the caves of South Lebanon”, the heartland of the Shi‘ite community.

In an interview with Al-Arabiya TV, he added: “Lebanese must all know these risks and work to fix matters before they reach the point of no return.”

He did not spell out what action Saudi Arabia might take against Lebanon, a country with a weak and heavily indebted state that is still rebuilding from its 1975-90 civil war and where one-in-four people is a Syrian refugee.

There was no immediate comment from the Lebanese government.

Hezbollah is both a military and a political organization that is represented in the Lebanese parliament and in the Hariri-led coalition government formed last year.

Its powerful guerrilla army is widely seen as stronger than the Lebanese army, and has played a major role in the war in neighboring Syria, another theater of Saudi-Iranian rivalry where Hezbollah has fought in support of the government.

Lebanese authorities said on Monday the country’s financial institutions could cope with Hariri’s resignation and the stability of the Lebanese pound was not at risk.

But the cash price of Lebanon’s U.S. dollar-denominated bonds fell, with longer-dated maturities suffering hefty losses as investors took a dim view of the medium- to longer-term outlook for Lebanon


HARIRI FREE TO TRAVEL, SAUDI FM SAYS

Hariri cited a plot to assassinate him during his unexpected resignation speech broadcast from Saudi Arabia which caught even his aides off guard. He also slammed Hezbollah and Iran, accusing them of sowing strife in the Arab world.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has said he will not comment on Hariri’s speech, calling it a “Saudi statement” and saying Riyadh had forced Hariri to resign.

The sudden nature of Hariri’s resignation generated speculation in Lebanon that his family’s Saudi construction business had been caught up in an anti-corruption purge and he had been coerced into resigning.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir said it was “nonsense” to suggest Hariri had been coerced into quitting in a CNN interview on Monday. Hariri had quit because Hezbollah had been “calling the shots” in the government, he said. Hariri, a Saudi citizen, was free to leave the country at any time, he said.

Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk, a senior member of Hariri’s political party, said he was under the impression Hariri would return to Beirut within days.

A meeting between Saudi King Salman and Hariri in Riyadh on Monday proved “rumors” wrong, he said - an apparent reference to speculation that Hariri was detained or forced to quit.

Earlier on Monday, President Michel Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, appealed for national unity


Saudi Prince Salman's Chess Game with Hezbollah in Lebanon



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