Saudi Official views Lebanon as “at war with us”

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Christian-owned Beirut daily al-Nahar reports that the Saudi minister for Gulf Affairs, Thamer al-Sabhan, said Monday that Saudi Arabia would not accept that Lebanon should join in the war on his country.

He added, “We will treat the government of Lebanon like a state that has declared war on us, because of the Hizbullah militias.” He pointed out that Hizbullah influences all the decisions made by the Lebanese government.

Al-Sabhan’s take on Lebanon is frankly bizarre. He doesn’t seem to realize that over a third of Lebanese are Christians and nearly a third are Shiites. Sunnis are reckoned at 28%. Sunnis are the ones most likely to tilt toward Saudi Arabia, but even many of them do not like Saudi hard line Wahhabism or its backing for extremist groups such as the Army of Islam in Syria or the Lebanese Salafi cult in Sidon. So Saudi Arabia simply does not have a majority constituency in that country and it is hard to see how threatening Beirut in this way will increase Saudi influence there.

Al-Sabhan is right that the Shiite Hizbullah, which is a legal political party in Lebanon with seats in parliament and cabinet ministers, is very influential. But it is influential because it has gained the support of a majority of Shiites (even secular ones) and substantial numbers of Christians have decided to put up with it or actively ally with it (as with president Michel Aoun). Hizbullah is given money by Iran, but Iranians can’t vote in Lebanese elections, and Lebanese Shiites have other choices if they don’t like Hizbullah and its Iran connections. Unsurprisingly, most Lebanese Shiites are not afraid of Iranian Shiites.

Christians and Shiites in Lebanon on the whole supported or were neutral toward the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, which the Saudis tried to overthrow by backing hard line Salafi/ Sunni militiamen. The Saudis actually directed shelling and bombing of Syrian government buildings. Both in Syria and in Lebanon, the idea of Salafis taking Damascus sent a chill down the spines of Christians, given that the hard liners reject secular government, democracy, and basic human rights, and would reduce Christians to second class citizens or even non-citizens.

Al-Sabhan appeared to accuse Lebanon’s Hizbullah of training Saudi Shiites to be guerrillas. Something like 12% of the Saudi population is Shiite, and it predominates in the oil-rich Eastern Province. The current king has repressed the Saudi Shiites, whose position has worsened palpably after having improved a bit in the last decade after the government permitted municipal elections (largely Shiite cities such as Qatif then allowed Shiite rituals inside city limits). But Saudi Shiites have protested peacefully against Wahhabi repression. The major terrorism committed in Saudi Arabia in recent years has come from Salafi jihadi outfits such as al-Qaeda and ISIL. Some Saudi Wahhabis have at least been favorable toward al-Qaeda.

Al-Sabhan added, in an interview on the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based mouthpiece for Riyadh, Alarabiya, that “Saudi Arabia’s King Salman informed Saad Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon who just resigned, of the details of Hizbullah’s acts of enmity toward Saudi Arabia, indicating that it is the responsibility of the Lebanese government to be aware of the danger these militias pose to Saudi Arabia.”

He alleged that Hizbullah fighters participate in every act of terrorism threatening Saudi Arabia, underlining that the kingdom will deploy every political and extra-political means to confront what he called “Hizb Shaytan.” (Hizbullah in Arabic means ‘party of God;’ Hizb Shaytan means ‘party of Satan).

He said that the Lebanese have a choice between Islam and joining in with Hizbullah.

[Yes, he said this to a country that is, like, 36% Christian!]

He added that Riyadh had expected the Lebanese to work to repress Hizbullah and that they had it in their power to define what will happen to their relationship with Saudi Arabia.

He accused Hizbullah of smuggling drugs into the kingdom and of training young Saudi [Shiite] men in terrorist techniques.

He denied that Riyadh had forced Hariri to resign as prime minister.

He concluded, “Lebanon has been taken hostage by Hizbullah militias, with Iran standing behind them– and the Lebanese are capable of making a stand against the transgressions of these Hizbullah militias.”

The likelihood of the Lebanese people or government bowing to these threats is slim to none.

I don’t think the Saudi military, bogged down in Yemen, is likely to try anything in Lebanon. If war comes out of all this, it would be from the Israeli Air Force.

But now that Russia has put a security umbrella over Syria, it is not at all clear that Moscow would be happy with or allow an attempt to quash Hizbullah, which has been Putin’s key ally in propping up Bashar al-Assad.

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Related video:

Wochit News: “Saudi Arabia says Lebanon has declared war on it”

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22 Responses

  1. All the war mongering, chest pounding, and accusations, comes mostly from Saudi Arabia. In other words, SA is itching for a war with Iran, with the love and support of Israel and the US. Neighbor envy is an ugly thing.

  2. The US and Russia are having a face off in that area. bin Salman and Bibi are getting boisterous in a space between. It will all end in tears. I can still hear my mother saying.

  3. It is now quite clear that Saad Hariri’s resignation was not voluntary but was dictated to him by his Saudi masters. There are a number of reports indicating that he too is under house arrest. Many Iranian and Arab sources have reported that Hariri’s meeting with Ali Akbar Velayati, long-term Iranian foreign minister and currently Ayatollah Khamenei’s chief political advisor, a few days ago was cordial. In that meeting Iran put forward a number of proposals for normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia, provided that the Saudis stopped supporting the Salafi militants in Syria. Hariri had gone to Saudi Arabia to discuss the offer with Saudi leaders, but it did not go well, at least with the over-ambitious MbS.

    It seems that the arrest of all those powerful and wealthy princes had been connected with the suspicions of a coup or at least as a precaution to prevent a future challenge to MbS. Now, MbS has concentrated all the levers of political, military and economic power in his own hands and is acting like an absolute dictator, despite the traditional Saudi practice of giving some power to a few leading princes. Under these circumstances, it is truly bizarre that the leader of the free world should tweet “I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing”.

  4. Isn’t Hizbullah our Iranian terrorist demon also? Seems like the anti Iranian axis, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the US, keeps tightening the bonds that bind it. But what could go wrong with when we have Trump, a self-proclaimed genius, in the mix? Deal baby, deal.

  5. Does anyone here think that the recent developments in KSA (major moves by MBS to consolidate power, foreign policy actions,etc) followed a “clearance” from the White House, as we were informed that POTUS’ son-in-law Kushner had been on an unannounced visit to KSA just a week ago ?

  6. Professor, I assume that you identify An-Nahar as a Christian-owned newspaper in order to point out the absurdity of Tamer as-Sabhan’s statement’s about Lebanon being an Hizbullah/Shiite controlled, enemy state of Saudi Arabia. No doubt the comments are absurd, or, anyway in the service of an agenda that is trying to create reality that does not yet exist. And surely there are certain trends within any religious community, including those of Lebanon. However, I am afraid your generalizations are not helpful. As you know, ‘Christians’ in Lebanon are diverse lot, both in terms of sect and in terms of political orientation. Within the Maronite community, for instance, there are ethno-chauvinists of a fascist bend who at times have been all too happy to ally with Israel, leftist Arab nationalists, political opportunists who will go whichever the wind blows (Gen Aoun, for instance), and others who just want to be left alone. The same diversity exists in the Armenian and Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Greek Catholic, and other Christian denominations. Saying a paper is ‘Christian’ owned doesn’t really say much other than the fact offices might be closed on Christmas or Easter. But, then again, we don’t know whose Christmas or whose Easter that might be. As for Sunnis – again, a wide range. There are plenty of Sunnis in Lebanon whose sympathies lie with Hizbullah. And, of Shiites there are people whose political outlook is more in line with Maronite Phalangists than anything articulated either by Hasan Nasrullah or Nabih Berri (not that the latter has anything to say). To be fair, you do mention some of this diversity – including the fact that Shiites vote for parties other than Hizbullah. But, I also think you took the route of convenience in gliding over many of these important differences.

    • You on the other hand have worked yourself into a position where Sunnis in Lebanon are pro-Hizbullah and Christians don’t have an alliance with it.

      • I would have thought that my mention of General Aoun, who has maintained an alliance with Hizbullah for several years, would have addressed that point. And, one of the things to be inferred by the statement that “there plenty of Sunnis whose sympathies lie with Hizbullah” is that there are Sunnis whose sympathies don’t.

        • The problem with your original comment is that it does not address proportions. Almost all Lebanese say Hizbullah should keep its arms for now. Some say that they should keep them forever. 56% of Shiites say this. A majority of Catholics say this. Even 12% of Maronites say this. But only 7% of Sunnis say this. So sure, you can say there are Sunnis who support Hizbullah strongly. But 93% of them don’t support them to the hilt, and moreover, the percentage of Sunnis who do is the absolute smallest among all the confessions. So it is possible, you see, to make some judgments.

          http://monthlymagazine.com/article-desc_1838_information-internationals-opinion-poll–information-international-polls-the-lebanese-on-current-issues

        • I’ll admit that I am surprised by the figures you cite, especially that only 7% of Sunnis in Lebanon think Hizbullah should keep their arms indefinitely. if those numbers are accurate, my Sunni associates in Lebanon are in a rather small minority. (I might add that I am from a mixed Sunni/Armenian orthodox family, but from Palestine).

  7. Could all of this recent hostility by Saudi Arabia be a ruse to draw the U.S. into being a pro-Saudi proxy warfare state against some of their enemies?

    Since oil is involved likely Trump and Tillerson would fall for it?

    “According to a popular saying, ‘a gourd is better than a head without a ruse in it.” ― René R. Khawam, The Subtle Ruse: The Book Of Arabic Wisdom And Guile.

    • It is always fun watching racists getting played by those they assume to be inferior. Not that I’m endorsing KSA’s antics.

  8. Conjuring up foreign enemies as justification for a crack-down and consolidation of power, seems like the most likely explanation.

  9. Thank for giving us some context. MbS seems to be adopting the neoliberal modus operandi of cheap, superficial liberal reform, whilst up to all kinds of unpleasantness. As they say in Egypt, he’s like hay that’s got wet underneath.

  10. Ed Dolle: “Why. Why does Saudi Arabia keep throwing its weight around?”

    Because the House of Saud is being urged to do this, and these guys are too dumb to understand that the countries that are urging them along don’t care if the Saudi’s end up thrown under a bus – so long as Iran ends up under those same wheels.

  11. The head of Pak’s army just recently visited Iran.

    I am legit worried that the Saudis may consider strong arming and punishing Pakistan as well (that is what it seems like with Lebanon, by plunging it into political crisis, and they did briefly to Pakistan when Pakistan responded that it wouldn’t send troops to Yemen earlier, but the Saudis were eventually soothed when they bagged former army chief Raheel Sharif as leading their ‘anti-terrorism’ Sunni coalition, i.e. anti-Iran, war efforts), besides trying to stoke anti-Shia sectarian tensions, which in the past has included sectarian cleansing violence by Sunni Islamist extremists, in their proxy war against Iran in the region once again.

    Looking at their strangulation and slaughter of Yemen, erratic comments of asking the Lebanese to choose ‘Islam’ over ‘Hezbollah’ besides the paranoid hyping of Iranian threats, and the recent political crackdown of their own royal members, I think the MbS regime are going to take everyone down a dark path.

  12. And of course, no harebrained scheme would be complete without some useful idiots. This would explain Jared Kushner’s recent trip to SA.

  13. The Saudi government has shown itself to have a very questionable military capability despite its tens of billions of dollars spent on armaments. It seems highly unlikely that Saudi Arabia could defeat Iran even with Israeli assistance. Hence the drive to get the US involved by the two Lobbies. With the idiot Trump in charge, they finally have a real chance of success on that.

  14. Wouldn’t pretend to know what’s going on in Saudi Arabia, but from far away, it looks to me like the Saudi nightmare of a Shi’ite crescent from Iran to Beirut has basically come to pass (thank you neo-cons), it has solidified rather quickly, and it has them more than a little freaked out. Your long-term economic heft is clearly on the wane, and you find your only friends in the region are Israel and Donald Trump. Desperate men do desperate things.

  15. This to my observation this is a case of Saudi Arabia realising that the power of Oil is quickly becoming a thing of the past as the world embraces Solar Energy. So they desperately make political moves to become relevant by spending their cash on weapons to try and become forceful nation. Unfortunately for them their society is hollow of any substance apart from the wealthy ruling class with their solid gold toilets. Iran on the other hand to my guess has a more creative culture that will out fox all the rosters in the US chook shed.

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