- Rory O'Keeffe
Arab states order citizens to leave Lebanon, as evidence mounts PM's resignation was a Saudi-led
Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait have all told their citizens to leave Lebanon as soon as possible, and not to travel there unless it is absolutely unavoidable. Bahrain had already done so, on Sunday.
Saudi Arabia’s minister for Gulf affairs, Thamer al-Sabhan, said on Monday, in the wake of the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri on Saturday, that Saudi Arabia would now treat Lebanon as ‘a state which has declared war on us’, though it is unclear exactly what action it plans to take to this end.
It is not impossible that it might decide to attempt an attack on Lebanon, having done so in tandem with UAE on Yemen, but the situation in Lebanon is significantly different, as not only can Saudi Arabia or its allies not realistically claim that there has been an uprising against the Lebanese government (as certainly happened – however justified it may have been – in Yemen), the EU and US have both publicly stated their ongoing support for Lebanon and its government.
Meanwhile, since the invasion of Yemen, the Saudi Arabian, Bahrain and UAE governments have all experienced an unexpected lack of clear support from the US and EU on their blockade of Qatar.
At this stage, it seems likely that the measure has been taken, following Bahrain’s decision, to make a ‘statement’, which has the ‘advantage’ of also being a preparation for military activity, should that develop.
However, Hariri’s Future Movement Party has joined Lebanese President Michel Aoun and representatives of Hizbollah (which Saudi Arabia and Hariri, in his statement, have accused of creating a ‘state within a state’ in Lebanon, and which Hariri said he believed may make an attempt on his life) in stating that it still regards him as Lebanon’s Prime Minister.
In a televised statement on behalf of the party, its previous Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who appeared with Hariri’s aunt Bahia, said that Hariri’s return to Lebanon is ‘necessary to recover respect for Lebanon’s internal and external balance, and in the framework of full respect for Lebanese legitimacy.’
Until yesterday, Future Movement had dismissed claims that Hariri was being held under house arrest in Saudi Arabia (those who believe this believe Hariri was forced to resign by the Saudi regime with threats to his family under the ongoing corruption investigation in which 11 members of the Saudi royal family have been jailed, in order to offer a pretext for the state to step up its opposition to Iranian influence in the region, and to Hizbollah, whose standing ‘army’ is far more powerful than Lebanon itself), but its statements appear to show that its opinion has changed.
Equally, four Lebanese politicians, at least one a ‘senior politician’ and another close to the Hariri family, have said that the Lebanese Prime Minister had been forced to resign, was now under house arrest, and was having his movements controlled by the Saudi government.
Saudi Arabia denies this, but Hariri himself has made no statements since his resignation on Saturday.
Although no date has yet been set, government officials also say that they and the President are planning to request assistance from the international community, the Arab League, the US, UK, China and Russia to help recover Hariri and uncover his reasons for resigning.