Lebanon into the War of Saudi Arabia and Iran

Introduction

The Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, in a televised statement from Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia, announced his resignation on 04 November 2017.
Mr Hariri in his statement said that he was free to move around without any restriction in Saudi Arabia and that he had decided to step down due to increased Iranian influence in his country.
He feared that he and his family could meet the same fate as his father, Rafik Hariri, ex prime minister of Lebanon, who was assassinated purportedly by the Iranian backed militant organization Hezbollah.
However, his resignation has raised a lot of speculations, and different theories have emerged.
The government of Lebanon has pointed out that it’s an act of aggression by Saudi Arabia, who is holding their prime minister hostage against his wish. They want him to be returned to Lebanon at the earliest.
Mr Saad Hariri, holds a dual Saudi-Lebanese citizenship and has huge financial assets in Saudi Arabia, where he owns a construction business. It is believed that the financial reasons give Riyadh leverage over him.
The suspicion is that he is being threatened that all his assets will be attached and he will be charged for corruption and detained unless he tows the line of Saudi Arabia.
It is conjectured that Saudi Arabia, which is a Sunni country felt that Lebanese PM Hariri was not doing enough to contain the Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia militant group, which is the country’s most powerful political and military organization.
A strong and influential Hezbollah means that Iran, which is a Shiite country, can exert a much greater influence over Lebanon.
Hence, this development can be seen as an extension of the Sunni-Shia proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, who are the two major rival powers that want to assume supremacy in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia – Iran Proxy War
The Sunni-Shia rivalry has been there since time immemorial.  Saudi Arabia, right from the late 1980s, intensified its bid to contain Iran’s reach to the region’s minority Shiite populations and promoted anti-Shia incitement in schools, Islamic universities, and through media.
In spite of the fact that Iraq is a Shia dominated country, Saudi Arabia supported Iraq in its eight year long war against Iran to gain control over the oil rich territories in the region.
In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, which is a Saudi ally. The United States, after expelling the Iraqis from Kuwait, established military bases in the region to defend its allies from Iraq. This further tilted the regional power balance against Iran, which saw the American forces as a threat.
Saddam Hussein, who was himself a Sunni, ruled a Shia dominated Iraq for decades. His regime had become explicitly sectarian, that in essence was greatly responsible for the widening of Sunni-Shiite divide in the region.
The prevailing situation allowed Iran to cultivate allies among Iraq’s increasingly disenfranchised Shiites, including militias that had risen up.
Meanwhile, the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq led to the toppling of Iraqi regime that had been hostile to both Saudi Arabia and Iran. This development led to the creation of a regional power vacuum.
The Sunni militant groups like the Al Qaeda and the ‘rebels’ in Syria are backed by Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah of Lebanon and the  Houthi ‘rebels’ in Yemen have the tacit support of Iran, who fight their proxy war to fill the power vacuum created by American interventions in the Middle East for their own personal gains.
The United States rallied behind the Sunni faction and needless to say that Russia adopted a pro-Shia stance to further add to the furry in the region.
The ISIS, a Sunni militant organization that came into existence as an off-shoot of Al Qaeda because of this power struggle in the region, finally became a monster that required the effort of the entire world to contain.
The Arab Spring Episode
The Arab Spring toppled autocratic rulers and regimes across the Middle East. Saudi Arabia’s fear of losing ground to Iran, who could then fill up the vacuum, made the rulers of those countries to fight harder to retain their influence, wherever possible.
Riyadh promised billions in aid to Jordan, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and Bahrain and urged those governments to crack down heavily on the pro-democracy protesters. It sent 1200 troops to Bahrain, tacitly supported 2013 military takeover in Egypt, as a more reliable ally than the elected Islamist government it replaced.
As Libya fell into civil war, it backed a hard-line general who was driving to consolidate control.
Meanwhile Syria, an Iranian ally, reversed the dynamics of the prevailing environment. Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Sunni states steered money and arms to the rebels, including Sunni Islamists.
Iran intervened in turn, sending officers and later Hezbollah to fight on behalf of Syria’s government, whose leaders mostly follow a sect of Shiism.
Finally, their interventions, has locked Syria into an ever-worsening stalemate that has killed over 400,000.
Similarly, in Yemen the Houthi rebel group with loose ties to Iran ousted the Saudi-backed president, deepening Riyadh’s fears of Iran gaining ground.
Hence, Saudi Arabia launched a bombing campaign that inflicted horror on civilians but accomplished little else. The Yemen crisis is possibly the world’s gravest humanitarian crisis, with more than 900,000 suffering from Cholera and millions starving.
Lebanon Dragged into the Proxy War of Saudi Arabia and Iran 
In effect, when the competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran heated up in Iraq, they sought to counterbalance each other through another weak state: Lebanon.
The proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia was a major reason for political instability and a civil war in Lebanon in early 2000.
Iran promoted Hezbollah (originally created by Iran as a militant outfit against Israel to support the Palestinian movement), who fought for the rights of the people of Lebanon, Saudi Arabia backed the Lebanese military, neither had a full mandate, and Lebanon struggled to maintain law and order.
Iranian-backed Syrian troops were deployed in Lebanon during the civil war in 2005 and when the then PM of Lebanon, Mr Hariri (senior) called for their withdrawal; he was assassinated presumably by the Hezbollah.
In 2008 another political crisis surfaced in Lebanon, which ended with the Hezbollah overpowering Sunni militias and seized much of Beirut.
The Wiki Leaks cable has revealed that Saudi Arabia had requested United States at that stage to provide air support for a Pan-Arab force to retake the city. However, the intervention never materialized.
The reason why Hariri’s resignation is considered to be a destabilizing factor in the region is that after the fragile democracy of Lebanon was established, its political system requires different religious groups to share power.
Lebanon’s prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, the president must be a Maronite Christian and the parliamentary speaker must be a Shia Muslim.
Saudi Arabia usually backs the prime minister for the obvious reasons. The increased political and military influence of Hezbollah in Lebanon is a serious cause for concern for Riyadh.
Further, if Hezbollah gains more political and military power in Lebanon as a result of the ongoing instability, it will certainly get Israel into the frame.
Earlier in 2006 also, Israel and Hezbollah had engaged with each other in a month long battle, in which more than 4000 rockets were fired into Israel and Israeli forces launched around 7000 bombs and missiles into Lebanon. 160 Israeli troops and civilians died, and 1100 Lebanese, mostly civilians died, 4000 got injured and nearly one million people got displaced.
Conclusion
France was the ruling colonial power in Lebanon after the Ottoman Empire fell, till it gained independence in 1944. The French President Emmanuel Macron travelled to Saudi Arabia two weeks ago, to discus and help in resolving the crisis between Beirut and Riyadh.
However, it appears that the worst is yet to come. Saudi Arabia has ordered its citizens to leave Lebanon and has also asked its allies, Kuwait and UAE to ask its citizens to leave that country. It is presumed that escalation of the situation is much on the cards.

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