The saga of Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri,—still current according to Lebanon, which refuses to accept his resignation—or is it ex-Lebanese PM—according to his masters in Saudi Arabia— is becoming more and more intriguing by the day. Hariri is currently in France after rumors abounded he was being held in Saudi Arabia against his will, although he insists he is a free man and will “make known my position” on a promised imminent return to Lebanon. Lebanon awaits patiently his return, shocked by the Saudi forced resignation and the accusations leveled against it by both Hariri and the Saudi rulers. The Saudi regime threatens to destabilize Lebanon in pursuit of its ambitions to weaken Iran which it sees as an obstacle to its domination of the Middle East. It has financed and armed terrorists from around the world to descend on Syria and wage a bloody sectarian war on Syrians, demanding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down as president, or be killed by their terrorist proxies.
Who would have thought such a simple event as a resignation could be the precursor to one of a number of major regional upheavals, from the great Mohammad bin Salman purge in Saudi Arabia, to mutual accusations from Lebanon and Saudi Arabia that they had declared war on each other, to a rising of tensions between arch-rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia. Before we extend too much sympathy to Hariri however, we should not lose sight of the damage he has done in Lebanon and his support of terrorists in attacking Syria with the aim of overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad.
Hariri travelled to Saudi Arabia, returned to Lebanon for just one day, where he met with Ali Velayati, a top advisor of the supreme leader Khamenei of Iran, before being summoned back to the Saudi kingdom where he resigned as Prime Minister on a Saudi TV channel under the orders of the Saudi regime, using what was surely a Saudi prepared script to do so.
As if suspicions that his resignation was Saudi ordered were not high enough, he engaged in fiery sectarian rhetoric which could have come straight from the mouth of bin Salman or Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu. Hariri denounced Hezbollah and Iran for being a destructive force in Lebanon and for meddling in internal affairs of countries in the Arab world. He vowed the failure of the destructive plans he accused Iran of, saying the Arab world would “cut off the hands that wickedly extend to it”.
Hariri claimed there was a plot on his life, necessitating traveling to Saudi Arabia for his safety. Like his inflammatory accusations against Hezbollah and Iran, this claim was hollow and without basis, part of a fabricated narrative prepared for him by his Saudi masters who are frustrated beyond imagination by the failure of their proxy war on Syria, the quagmire they find themselves in Yemen, the growing power and success of the axis of resistance, and are now seeking a new front by seeking to destabilize and sow sectarian discord in Lebanon.
Hezbollah Secretary General, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, refused to take the Saudi bait, reacting calmly to the shock resignation which he said was forced on Hariri by Saudi Arabia. Nasrallah called for calm until more was known about the surprise announcement, said Hezbollah would work for the preservation of security and stability and that Lebanon must not be drawn in by sectarian instigation.
The calm demeanor and warnings against sectarian hatred which could tear the country apart, remind of Syrian leader Assad, who has steadfastly defended the secular nature of Syria against every known abomination of sectarianism known to the human race. Assad maintains his dignity and composure, freely and openly mixing with Syrians despite the thousands of takfiris who would kill him in a heartbeat in the service of Saudi and other terrorist state sponsors. In comparison with Hariri running to his Saudi benefactors, Syria News noted when Hariri resigned:
We cannot think of this without comparing this boy with a man like Bashar al-Assad who is targeted by each evil and satanic power on the planet with a war waged against his country by tens of thousands of suicide terrorists yet he’s found on the frontlines of all battles in his country commanding the defense and protection of his people.
Barely a month earlier, Hariri announced plans to join a coalition government with Hezbollah. The position of Hezbollah had been strengthened, an unacceptable development for Saudi Arabia and further grounds for displeasure with Hariri. Contrary to the often repeated empty and baseless claims of Iranian interference in Lebanon’s domestic affairs, Saudi interference couldn’t be exemplified more than by the sight of the Lebanese PM resigning on Saudi soil, in front of Saudi TV cameras and to put the cherry on top, reading from a Saudi prepared script.
As for the sinister-sounding plot on his life, it reeks of being a pretext to whisk Hariri out of the country—to which he hasn’t yet returned—of being the latest in a long line of propagandistic allegations against Hezbollah and Iran, and of trying to foment sectarian conflict in Lebanon.
Sources close to Hariri are said to have told the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya network of the plot to assassinate him. This was, just like the shock resignation, a surprise to Lebanese intelligence agencies, who said they had no knowledge of any assassination plot against Hariri. Fearing the paper thin allegation would crumble, another Wahabbist ruler mouthpiece, Asharq al-Awsat quickly followed up by claiming western intelligence agencies had confirmed there was a plot on Hariri’s life. And we all know western intelligence agencies never lie (said firmly with tongue in cheek). True to form, the sources were unnamed and no further elaboration was provided. On cue, firebrand Saudi Minister of Gulf Affairs, Thamer al-Sabhan, claimed Lebanon had declared war on Saudi Arabia, saying, “We will treat the government of Lebanon as warmongers against Saudi Arabia due to the aggression of Hezbollah.” One can’t but avoid noticing the similarity in aggression and sectarian incitement of al-Sabhan and Hariri, in contrast to the calm manner of Nasrallah and the aforementioned composure of Assad, despite six years of unrelenting terrorism against Syria. Nasrallah himself has now stated Saudi Arabia has declared war on Lebanon, which given Saudi Arabia appeared to be holding Hariri involuntarily, is far more credible than the fiery rhetoric coming from Riyadh. Nasrallah didn’t threaten to cut off anyone’s hands—or heads like the Saudi backed terrorists do— urging Lebanese to be alert for further provocations and to remain calm and united.
The motivation of Mohammad bin Salman, Saudi King in waiting, for ordering his proxy to resign has been the subject of much analysis and speculation and is only growing more intense with the prolonged absence of Hariri from Lebanon. One line of thought is that the resignation is part of the great pre-emptive coup waged by bin-Salman against potential rivals. Hariri has failed in the eyes of bin-Salman by not being able to weaken Hezbollah domestically, his Saudi business venture Saudi Oger, a construction company, has gone bankrupt and he has been allied with some of the figures on bin-Salman’s purge list. The other major line of thought is obviously that this is part of Riyadh’s obsession with confronting and weakening its rival Iran, with plans hatched against Hezbollah and Lebanon a key component in its anti-Iran strategy.
The failure of Saudi Arabia in Syria has proven to be spectacular in the long run, with billions of dollars pumped into recruiting, training and arming terrorists from across the globe proving ultimately futile. Saudi Arabia was fully on board the foreign-fueled war on Syria aimed at toppling Bashar al-Assad right from the outset. It was a key player in organizing the supply of weapons into Daraa to be used by Islamist proxies on both police and demonstrators. The well-organized violence quickly spread, with 88 soldiers killed across Syria in the month of April 2011, the scale and rapid advance across Syria not possible without the support of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, coordinated with NATO states.
Syria and its allies, including the invaluable support of Hezbollah, have made rapid gains against terrorist militias in recent months. Two years ago, ISIS controlled over 50% of Syria and threatened to fly the black flag over Damascus. ISIS now has no stronghold left from which to govern, coordinate, finance and disperse its fighters. It is reduced to a handful of towns and working in small disorganized groups which are unlikely to cause much damage to the Syrian led forces. This statement is made with some caution, however, as the US is liable to continue to assist ISIS in slowing down SAA advances and ensuring security for liberated regions.
Saudi Arabia, despite its protestations to the contrary, has been a vital backer of ISIS as confessed by both Joe Biden and the darling of the jihadists, Hillary Clinton. The Saudi regime, along with Qatar and Turkey funded the infamous “rat line” of weapons smuggled from Libyan stockpiles into Syria to be distributed to terrorist groups in Syria. This was an under the radar, covert supply of weapons to terrorist groups seeking to overthrow the legitimate Syrian government and only blew up because of the death of US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others after the US consulate was attacked by a Libyan militia.
Undeterred, the Saudis turned to former eastern bloc countries for large supplies of older style weapons. With bottomless pockets and no shortage of Islamist militias to supply, the Saudis had arms manufacturers working overtime to meet demand. Of the 1.2 billion euro pipeline of weapons being funneled to the Middle East, 829 million Euros has been gobbled up by the Saudis. The most disturbing aspect is only part of these weapons have been delivered, the supplies slated to fuel the continuation of the war against Syria.
The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, OCCRP, reported on the scale and source of the weapons supplies destined for delivery to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, and Turkey, to then be distributed into Syria and Yemen.
BIRN and the OCCRP examined arms export data, UN reports, flight records, and weapons contracts during a year-long investigation that reveals how thousands of assault rifles, mortar shells, rocket launchers, anti-tank weapons, and heavy machine guns are pouring into the troubled region, originating from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia.
The bonanza of weapons soon ended up in the hands of jihadists of all stripes prepared to destroy Syria in pursuit of an Islamist caliphate.
Eastern and Central European weapons and ammunition, identified in more than 50 videos and photos posted on social media, are now in use by Western-backed Free Syrian Army units, but also in the hands of fighters of Islamist groups such as Ansar al-Sham, Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIS, in Syria, factions fighting for Syrian President Bashar-al Assad and Sunni forces in Yemen.
The Saudi regime, while dabbling in Central and Eastern Europe to source their proxies weaponry, has always relied on the US for copious amounts of weapons, the scale reaching breathtaking heights under the US Trump regime. In late 2013 it signed a near $1 billion deal to buy 15,000 TOW anti-tank missiles. We were led to believe the Saudis would only supply the weapons to US approved groups, but there were two major deficiencies in this plan: first, Saudi Arabia may be a US protectorate, but it is not its puppet. It seeks domination of the Middle East and has embarked on terror sponsorship which sees it —not Iran—as the largest sponsor of terrorism in the region. Second, there is a false distinction in Syria on who is a moderate, who is a rebel, who is Islamist and who is a terrorist. The moderate opposition are those who are prepared to sit down for dialogue to air their grievances, not those who pick up arms and mount murderous insurrections against the state. In no western state would such an idea of agonizing who is moderate and who is a terrorist—used to justify the supply of weapons into Syria— be accepted. All those who take up arms would be branded as terrorists, as enemies of the state and attacked accordingly. Any reference by outside states to the armed insurgents as being moderates would create outrage.
The Saudi weapons programs to Al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria has been aimed at creating a Salafist principality extending from eastern Syria to western Iraq, which was admitted in a US Defense Intelligence Agency report in 2012. The rapid loss of territory held by ISIS in both regions has spelled a practical end to those ambitions, but Saudi Arabia is quite enthusiastic about US-backed Kurdish efforts to carve out a Rojava state in north and east Syria, a plan which would fragment and weaken the Syrian state and significantly impede post-war reconstruction.
For a time, the Saudi plan was going swimmingly, with ISIS swallowing up cities at a rapid pace across Syria and Iraq, and Al-Nusra allying with other Islamist groups to capture large areas of land, most notably the Idlib province, which they still hold currently. Anyone who has seen the above-mentioned TOW anti-tank missiles in action can testify to their lethality against tanks, the acquisition of thousands of such weapons courtesy of Saudi Arabia and its regime change allies turning the tide of the war to the terrorist group’s favor. Syria’s response of legally asking for assistance from its allies and its own determination in defeating terror on its soil slowly turned the tide back in its favor, to the point where ISIS is now a peripheral threat, a campaign to liberate Idlib from Al-Qaeda and its allies is in the pipeline and terrorist factions and their backers feel compelled to negotiate for a peaceful end to the war due to their weakened military position.
The recent liberation of Deir-Ezzor, Mayadin, and Al-Qaim on the Iraq side of the border have largely secured eastern Syria, notwithstanding the threat posed by US-supported HSD forces. The axis of resistance is on an upward incline, Sharmine Narwani observing that “Western-backed militants are in retreat, Bashar al-Assad remains president, Hezbollah has stretched its wings regionally, Israeli power is in decline, and Iran is on the rise. Not a pretty result for Washington’s multi-billion dollar investment in the Syrian conflict, especially if it was intended to change the map of the region to favor U.S. interests.”
For Saudi Arabia, regional prestige, influence, and domination are in the doldrums. Its aggression and support of terrorism are being effectively resisted, with no reversal of fortune under the ascension of Mohamed bin Salman. The aggression of MBS, the king in waiting, has only served to hasten the Saudi regimes decline. Its meddling in Lebanese affairs with the audacious demand of Saad Hariri to resign as Lebanese Prime Minister on Saudi TV has backfired to this point with calm reactions from Hezbollah and no immediate inflammation of sectarian divisions. The mass internal purge with the accompanying seizure of billions in assets is the subject of much analysis and debate and may be the start of desperate measures that lead ultimately to war against Lebanon. The regime will be very hesitant to undertake such a war alone and is stoking tensions in the country in what appears to be a coordinated effort with Israel.
No discussion on Saudi Arabia is complete without its murderous, genocidal assault on the people of Yemen. After its false claim that Iran supplied Houthis with a missile fired at Riyadh international airport, the Saudis tightened the already crushing blockade on the poorest country in the region. An impending catastrophe has prompted the heads of the World Food Program, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization to implore Saudi Arabia to lift the blockade, saying that without aid shipments, “untold thousands of innocent victims, among them many children, will die.”
Despite Donald Trump and some of his advisers adoring the Saudi regime, things are far from rosy in Riyadh. The very instability it seeks to export, threatens to undermine it and the future rule of MBS, surely an outcome of poetic justice. As Bruce Reidel wrote in a column for Al-Monitor’s Gulf Pulse: “The kingdom is at a crossroads: Its economy has flatlined with low oil prices; the way in Yemen is a quagmire; the blockade of Qatar is a failure; Iranian influence is rampant in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq; and the succession is a question mark. It is the most volatile period in Saudi history in over a half-century.”
— Paul Mansfield