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The Saudi Hand in Lebanon's Crisis

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)
 

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