Political Observation - The Dimensions of al-Hariri's Resignation and the Crackdown in Saudi

 

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Political Observation - The Dimensions of Al-Hariri's Resignation and the Crackdown in Saudi

Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri announced a week ago from Saudi his resignation in a manner that took many by surprise. Al-Hariri justified taking his decision outside Lebanon with reasons related to his person, Hezbollah and Iran. He said his life was in danger: "I felt what was being covertly plotted to target my life,” he said. He also justified his resignation by claiming that he rejected Hezbollah's domestic custodianship over Lebanon and that he also rejected its military intervention in Syria and other countries of the region which has cost Lebanon its exceptional relationship with the Arab states.  And as for the third reason for his resignation, Saad al-Hariri opted to launch a scathing attack on the foreign custodianship Iran has been imposing on Lebanon which has turned Lebanon into a source of threat to regional security and created a "state within a state". Saad al-Hariri ended his statement about Iran with a threatening tone by saying "Iran's hands in the region shall be severed."

The resignation of Saad al-Hariri seems suspect in its timing, location, significance, and aims. Contrary to conventional protocol, Saad al-Hariri announced his resignation from Saudi rather than Lebanon. This proves that he acted as a mouthpiece for what Saudi state minister Thamer al-Sabhan tweeted a few days ago: "a lengthy and fruitful meeting with my brother prime minister Saad al-Hariri and an agreement on several issues that concern the Lebanese people and what is to come is better with the leave of Allah."

It is worth noting that the location from which Saad al-Hariri announced his resignation is connected to the regional arrangements being made for the benefit of the US rather than the domestic setting since al-Hariri had apparently been on good terms with his political rivals such as Michel Aoun and Hassan Nasrullah who facilitated for him the approval of the state budget.

As for the timing, his resignation came following two important meetings he had had. The first was with Saudi minister Thamer al-Sabhan, who predicted a host of imminent events in Lebanon, and the second was in Beirut, just one day before his resignation, with the Iranian adviser for international affairs Ali Akbar Velayati who congratulated Saad al-Hariri and his government on their victories in combating terrorism and went as far as deeming Lebanon as a part of the "resistance axis".  As for the denotation of this resignation, Saad al-Hariri appeared in his statement as if he was discovering Hezbollah and Iran for the first time despite having twice headed a government that included Hezbollah; and it was clear that it had been written for him in a hurry and in line with the denotations of speeches emanating from Saudi and America in respect of the stance vis-à-vis Hezbollah and Iran, which contain messages of belligerence and threats.  It could be said that the resignation speech was a Saudi-American design that suited the American inclination towards besieging Iran and downsizing Hezbollah.  This is what prompted Hassan Nasrullah to announce that what had happened was “Saudi madness".  As for Lebanese president Michel Aoun, deemed as a political ally of Hezbollah, he was confusing in his comment on al-Hariri's resignation as if he was biding his time; he said he was waiting for the return of al-Hariri to Beirut to acquaint himself with the circumstances surrounding the resignation before taking further action.

The preponderant reasons prompting America and Saudi to twist al-Hariri's arm into resigning amid these regional and international circumstances are as follows:

1- Al-Hariri's resignation in Riyadh had come a few hours before the Saudi crown prince unleashed a widespread and unprecedented campaign of arrests that included a host of princes, ministers, business tycoons and prominent figures; some of them were later released. This has generated a number of regional situations that diverted attention away from the exceptional and sensitive unfolding events in the kingdom and their link to the current measures being effectuated to transfer power to Mohammed bin Salman.

2 - As the endgame in Syria draws near since the outlines of the provinces expected to form the federal union in Syria have virtually been drawn, it was imperative to restore the equilibrium among the military powers which had recently been tilting in favour of the regime in several regions. Hence, the exit of Hezbollah from Syria became a necessity especially as the Geneva talks had stipulated the evacuation of foreign militias. The resignation of al-Hariri and the pretexts he cited were aimed at placing Hezbollah in a tight spot which would eventually force it to leave Syria and Yemen and refrain from being an Iranian tool; Hezbollah has been a source of embarrassment and awkwardness to the Lebanese state on the regional plane and a bully on the domestic scene, al Hariri claimed.  Otherwise, Hezbollah would be downsized by force to turn it into a political party within the boundaries of Lebanon. The use of force against Hezbollah under the guise of being listed as a terrorist organisation has been construed from the statement of Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir who was yesterday quoted as saying: "We are saying that the world should make sure that we classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, and the world needs to take action to curb its activities and confront it wherever they may be. We cannot allow Lebanon to be a source of harm to the kingdom." Hence, Hezbollah may face a swift war launched against it by "Israel" with American and Saudi support and it may face a host of local and regional attacks with a patriotic or sectarian tinge.

3 - Since America is leading a campaign against Iran and her affiliates such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, the Popular Mobilisation Forces in Iraq and the Revolutionary Guards in Iran, and since Lebanon has been the most significant locations used by Iran to make her regional presence felt, the resignation of al-Hariri will lead to perturbing the political, economic and security stability in Lebanon, thus throwing a spanner in the works of the activities undertaken by Iran and her Lebanese affiliates.  Hence, it was not coincidental for the CIA to release thousands of top secret documents it had seized from the house of Usamah bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011 as the role of Daesh in heralding the fragmentation of the region has neared its conclusion; the documents revealed the coordination and the links between Hezbollah, Iran and the leaders of al-Qaeda and this American undertaking is designed to exert further pressure on Iran and Hezbollah. Then came the resignation of Saad al-Hariri to generate further pressure, in addition to the host of sanctions America has started to implement to dry up the sources of Hezbollah's financing.

The direct Saudi attack on Hezbollah and Iran via the resignation of Saad al-Hariri may act as a prelude to a limited strike by "Israel" against Hezbollah on behalf of America and Saudi in order to downsize Hezbollah and lay siege to Iran thus exerting further pressure on her in respect of several regional files. This narrative could be deduced from the statement of Saudi minister for the Gulf affairs Thamer al-Sabhan; he told Al-Arabiyyah channel on 6 November 2017: "Saudi will use all the political means among others to confront Hezbollah and will deal with Lebanon as a belligerent state due to the militias of Hezbollah."

4- The concord that existed among al-Hariri's government a year after it had been formed used to tilt in favour of the 8 March forces, namely Hezbollah and the Free Movement. And it seems this concord no longer serves America's interests at this stage though she had been instrumental in helping al-Hariri form that government and she had consented to Michel Aoun being the president. Since Lebanon is to hold general elections in May, the resignation of al-Hariri may be the prelude to that electoral process so that Saudi may spread her influence on the Lebanese domestic scene dominated by Hezbollah. It is suffice to ponder over the statement of Saudi minister al-Sabhan to realise that the resignation of al-Hariri is designed to steer the masses and political parties and any forthcoming government in Lebanon to refrain from backing the policies of Hezbollah and Iran and to hold them responsible for the disastrous consequences that may sweep Lebanon in the near future and undermine her stability. Al-Sabhan said: "The custodian of the two Holy Mosques king Salman bin Abdul Aziz has briefed the departing Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri of the hostilities perpetrated by the militias of Hezbollah against Saudi." He added: "The Lebanese government should be aware of the threat such militias pose to Saudi."

Al-Sabhan did not content himself with threatening the political forces but directed his threats to the masses in Lebanon by saying: "The Lebanese people should choose between peace and being under the spell of Hezbollah. We were expecting the Lebanese government to work towards deterring Hezbollah." He added that it was in the hands of the Lebanese people to determine the future of the relationship with Saudi.

Hariri's resignation has plunged Lebanon into internal turmoil that will eventually forge new alignments under the pressure of the US on Iran and Hezbollah. With Hariri gone, Saudi Arabia is hoping to make the March 14 alliance against Hezbollah rise from its ashes, as it wants to bring together Walid Jumblatt, head of the Democratic Gathering, the Phalange Party, the Lebanese Forces, and the Future Movement, along with a number of independents. Even with the support of Saudi Arabia, the Lebanese resigning prime minister might not be able to change the outcome of the upcoming elections because of the weight of Hezbollah and its allies, and the electoral law. He might, however, succeed in throwing a spanner in Nasrullah and Michel Aoun’s works to form a government that earns regional and international recognition. Lest this government be subject to the same pressure as Iran and Hezbollah in both Lebanon and Syria, it ought to toe the line and abide by the general outlines of the US’s new policy for the region. A new government will therefore, be formed, one that ostensibly adheres to the policy of dissociation and neutrality in the regional conflicts in order not to disturb all he is doing to maintain established political equilibriums.

Mohammed bin Salman’s purge hit those who stood against his internal and economic policies, military actions and regional alliances, most of which did not regard his accession to the throne with a favourable eye. In the blink of an eye, 11 princes and 38 ministers and deputies along with many businessmen were detained, other arrests followed as well. Among the top figures who were apprehended, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, Minister of National Guard, Alwaleed bin Talal, a businessman, the former Prince of Riyadh and brother of Prince Mutaib, Turki bin Abdullah, Walid Ibrahim, owner of MBC Group, Ibrahim al-Assaf, former Minister of Finance, and Minister of Economy Adel Fakih. Hariri's resignation cast doubt on the mood in the region and the situation in Lebanon creating thereby a diversion from what is happening inside of the Kingdom. The ballistic missile that was launched on Riyadh was also the best opportunity for Salman to impose a state of emergency and a “warzone” atmosphere in the country. The aim was to prevent any military or security forces loyal to one of the detainees from taking over the power centres in the country.

Hariri's resignation submitted from Riyadh was suspiciously followed by a crackdown that raised a few eyebrows over the timing of these events and how closely related they were to the ongoing arrangements to pave the way for bin Salman to rise to the crown once his father, King Salman, had abdicated the throne. The campaign of arrests led by the young prince (the king in all but name) reveals the depth of the fear he and his American allies have of some old and new power centers that seem to have been lying in wait for Salman’s son and hatching plots to prevent him from reaching the throne. In this regard, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, who has an army of henchmen in the Ministry of National Guard, is the bête noire of Mohamed bin Salman along with Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, brother of King Salman bin Abdulaziz and next in line to the throne.

On that note, King Salman held a meeting late last month in his palace in Riyadh with his brother, Prince Ahmad bin Abdul Aziz, former Minister of Interior, the former Crown Prince and Advisor to King Abdullah, Prince Muqrin as well as the son of Prince Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz and Prince Nayef bin Ahmed, head of the intelligence and security services of the Saudi Royal Land Forces. Despite being on good terms with his cousin Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, his father, Prince Ahmed, rejected King Salman's request to pledge allegiance to his son Mohammed bin Salman because he deemed that the latter did not meet the conditions required for the succession and was unfit to succeed his father. Prince Ahmad went as far as renewing his persistent claims of his right to the throne.

The recent crackdown by Saudi authorities on scores of princes, former ministers, and businesspersons, coincides with Hariri slamming the door and was motivated by the will of Mohammed bin Salman to get rid of his real opponents and smooth the path to the throne. In doing so, he wants to turn Saudi Arabia from the Kingdom of the House of Saud into the Kingdom of the House of Al-Salman. This whole situation is part of an American plan to separate the Hejaz region from Nejd by driving a wedge between the surviving sons of Abdul Aziz and his descendants from other families waiting around the corner to pounce on the House of Salman.

It seems that, after so many concessions, particularly in the economic field, the current Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has no doubt that America has his back. He believes that he’s going to lay the foundation of a new Saudi Arabia (the Fourth Kingdom) and trusts that his lords and masters in the White House support all his moves. He fails to realize that all the US cares about is its interests in the region, not the likes of him and its other puppets. He cannot see that the US is throwing him and his country into an abyss of resource-draining external wars and potential internal conflicts that may lead to the division of the country due to the belligerence among ruling family members and the sectarian rift in the eastern region fueled by Iran. Rather than nurturing the childish dream of building the kingdom on new bases, he must realize that all he is doing is serving the interests of his masters by spreading secularism like wildfire in the land of the Two Holy Mosques. He needs to know that after the outrageously big deals he graced the Americans with and the likelihood of him accepting Trump’s request to list Aramco's shares in the New York Stock Exchange, he has put the final nail in his economy’s coffin. With Hejaz and the Eastern Province taken away, he will be left with only the Najd province, and that is if he manages somehow to survive that long.

 22 Safar 1439h

11 November 2017