19:34 GMT +323 February 2018
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    A woman and her daughter pass by a poster of outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri, in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. Lebanon's president has called on Saudi Arabia to clarify the reasons why the country's prime minister has not returned home since his resignation which was announced from the kingdom

    It's Not About Hariri: How Lebanon is Falling Prey to Regional Conflicts

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    Lebanon risks becoming the arena of a Saudi-Iranian conflict, Karim Emile Bitar, a senior fellow at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris (IRIS), has told Sputnik, expressing his hope that France could mediate the ongoing political crisis. He opined that the US has played a substantial role in the escalation of tensions.

    A real hybrid war, which is simultaneously taking place in several territories, is raging on between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Karim Emile Bitar, a senior fellow at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris (IRIS) and specialist in Mideast affairs, told Sputnik France, stressing that Lebanon may fall prey to the struggle.

    Commenting on the possibility of a war in Lebanon following the sudden resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in early November, Bitar noted that no one could tell whether the situation will escalate into a war.

    "Very clearly, there was pressure escalated by Saudi Arabia, which, apparently, asked Saad Hariri to resign, protesting against Iran's growing influence at the regional level," the scholar emphasized. "It's not just about Lebanon, it's also related to what is happening in Yemen and in Syria, where the Iranians managed to make Bashar Assad stay in power."

    He noted that a substantial part of the Lebanese Shiite community — according to some estimates, about 80 percent — support Hezbollah. At the same time, while the country's Sunni community is largely oriented toward Saudi Arabia, the Shiites are focused on Iran.

    Due to this precondition, "Lebanon risks becoming the arena of confrontation between these regional powers, either directly or indirectly," he believes.

    According to Bitar, as of yet there has been a certain balance of power based on "a kind of mutual deterrence": "Neither the Saudis nor Hezbollah are interested in the deterioration of the situation," the specialist noted.

    "However, when the situation is so tense, when at the helm there are such tough, impulsive and emotional people as [Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia or [President] Donald Trump in the US, a coincidence of various factors could lead to an explosion," he warned.

    Bitar opined that "if a military clash occurred between Israel and Hezbollah, it would not be limited to Lebanon, but could also affect Syria." "That is, the situation is extremely dangerous," he highlighted.

    The scholar bemoaned the fact that Lebanon has become "a hostage to the regional conflicts."

    However, over the past couples of weeks, even the Lebanese people, whose attitudes towards Hezbollah's internal policy were negative, felt that the Saudis and Donald Trump have gone too far, he noted.

    "When the Saudis asked Hariri to announce the resignation from Saudi Arabia through the Saudi TV channel, they [the Lebanese] saw it as an attack on [the country's] national sovereignty," Bitar said, adding that "sometimes there is a feeling that the Saudis are acting against their own interests."

    Hezbollah fighters parade during a ceremony to honor fallen comrades, in Tefahta village, south Lebanon, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017
    © AP Photo/ Mohammed Zaatari
    Hezbollah fighters parade during a ceremony to honor fallen comrades, in Tefahta village, south Lebanon, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017

    The specialist believes that France may play a constructive role in solving the political crisis in Lebanon.

    According to Bitar, the Lebanese people hope that Paris will act as a mediator, being "the voice of reason." They think that France will persuade the Saudis to make concessions and explain to Riyadh that Lebanon's political affairs could be settled only through compromises between different factions, and that an attempt to deal a blow to Hezbollah on the Lebanese territory would be dangerous since it could lead to chaos.

    The scholar surmised that the US has played a significant role in the ongoing Lebanese crisis: Washington seeks to indirectly hit Iran in Lebanon and Syria, since its initial plan to weaken Tehran through renegotiating the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has largely failed.

    "Trump wanted to reconsider the nuclear agreement signed with Iran by his predecessor Barack Obama," Bitar explained. "However, he saw that this was impossible, since it was not a bilateral agreement, but Europe and the United Nations were also the parties to it. At the same time, the Europeans made it clear that they believe that Iran has kept its word, so there is no reason to revise the accord."

    Previously, Hariri announced his decision to step down citing assassination fears, saying that the atmosphere in Lebanon reminded him of that before the murder of his father, ex-Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, who was killed in 2005.

    Hariri served as prime minister from 2009 to 2011 and took office again in November 2016.

    He also lashed out at Iran and its ally Hezbollah, a Shi'ite militia operating in Lebanon, for interfering in the affairs of Arab countries. He added that Tehran's arms in the region would be cut off.

    Iran denied the claim as groundless, while the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, said that the Saudi leadership was behind Hariri's resignation.

    Related:

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    Mogherini Expects Hariri to Return to Lebanon in the Coming Days
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    France Lacks Levers to Help Resolve Lebanon Crisis - Analysts
    ‘Where’s Hariri?’: Has Riyadh ‘Kidnapped’ the Lebanon PM?
    Tags:
    hybrid warfare, resignation, political crisis, Hezbollah, Saad Hariri, Hassan Nasrallah, Donald Trump, Iran, Israel, Syria, United States, Middle East, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, France
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