From Strategic Culture
France's invitation to beleaguered Lebanese premier Saad Hariri for him and his family to spend "a few days in Paris" has been viewed as French President Emmanuel Macron stepping in with deft soft power to resolve tensions between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.
Less charitably, what Macron is really doing is giving cynical cover to the Saudi rulers for their extraordinary acts of aggression towards Lebanon and their violation of that country's sovereignty.
Two of Hariri's children were left in Saudi capital Riyadh while he visited France over the weekend. Were they being used as hostages by the Saudis to ensure that Hariri maintains the Saudi spin on events? Certainly, the arrangement raises suspicions, but the French president sought instead to affect a "normal" nothing-is-unusual appearance.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun last week publicly accused Saudi Arabia of holding Hariri in Riyadh against his will. Aoun said the Saudi rulers were violating international law by detaining Hariri and forcing his resignation as prime minister of Lebanon. Such acts were tantamount to aggression, said President Aoun.
Yet Macron has said nothing about Saudi interference. He has instead turned reality on its head by censuring Iran for regional "aggression" and thereby backing Saudi claims that Iran is supplying ballistic missiles to Yemen. Iran swiftly condemned Macron for "stoking regional tensions."
Credit goes to President Aoun for speaking out plainly, telling it like it is and expressing what many Lebanese citizens and many other observers around the world have concluded. The whole debacle is an outrageous affront to Lebanon and international law by the Saudi rulers, when it is taken into consideration Hariri's hasty summoning to Saudi capital Riyadh earlier this month, his subsequent televised resignation speech on Saudi TV, and his long-delayed sojourn in that country. What is even more despicable is that the Saudi interference in the sovereign affairs of Lebanon is threatening to reignite a civil war within the small Mediterranean country, and, possibly worse, a war across the region with Iran.
Hariri has claimed in a later media interview, held in Saudi Arabia, and in reported communications with family and friends who are back in Lebanon that he was not under duress while staying in Saudi Arabia. That claim beggars belief given the bizarre circumstances of Hariri's sudden departure and his protracted nearly two-week stay in Saudi Arabia.
In any case, the president of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, has concluded that something is badly amiss in the saga, and he has explicitly accused Saudi rulers of violating his country's sovereignty.
Therefore, if there were any principle or adherence to international law, the actions of Saudi Arabia should be condemned categorically by the international community, the UN, the European Union and France in particular owing to its historic relations with Lebanon as the former colonial power before independence in 1943.
But no. What we have instead are either shameful silence from Washington, or mealy-mouthed statements from the EU. The EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini issued a vague statement warning against "foreign interference" in the affairs of Lebanon. What kind of cowardly circumlocution is that?
Lebanon's prime minister Saad Hariri was, in effect, detained by Saudi Arabia and forced to tender his resignation from public office as a matter of ultimatum. It has been reliably reported that the Wahhabi Saudi rulers were exasperated with the Shia group Hezbollah being part of the coalition government in Beirut. Hariri is a Saudi-sponsored Sunni politician who is antagonistic to Hezbollah and by extension, Iran. But apparently, he was not sufficiently hostile, in the view of his Saudi backers. Hence, Hariri was summoned to Riyadh and ordered to resign on November 4. (The defeat of the Saudi-sponsored covert terror war in Syria no doubt was a factor too in the timing.)
France's President Macron is playing a particularly slippery game of pandering and expedience towards the Saudi despots.
As the Washington Post's WorldView briefing reported last week: "French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters that it was important to dispel the implication that Hariri was a Saudi prisoner."
The newspaper goes on to quote Macron saying rather vacuously: "We need to have leaders who are free to express themselves. It's important that [Hariri] is able to advance the political process in his country in the coming days and weeks."
The question should be asked: why is it important for Macron to "dispel the implication that Hariri was a Saudi prisoner"?
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