Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a televised speech on Friday in which he accused Saudi Arabia of prodding Israel to attack Lebanon. He claimed the Saudis have essentially hired the Israelis as mercenaries to help them take out Iran’s Lebanese proxy army.
“Saudi Arabia is inciting Israel to launch a war against Lebanon,” Nasrallah claimed in his speech. “I speak here about facts, not analysis. Saudi Arabia is ready to pay tens of billions of dollars to Israel for that.”
Nasrallah claimed Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been abducted by the Saudis, who forced him to tender his resignation.
“Lebanon has witnessed foreign interventions before but it never reached the level of forcing the prime minister to resign. We may have disputes with the Future Movement, but we condemn Saudi Arabia’s humiliation of prime minister Hariri,” he reportedly said, referring to Hariri’s political party, according to the translation by Middle East Eye.
The Future Movement (FM), which is currently the majority party in the Lebanese parliament, has called for Hariri’s return to Lebanon and indicated it still considers him the sitting prime minister, rejecting his resignation as invalid.
Hariri himself gave a statement from an undisclosed location after resigning on November 4th in which he accused Iran of plotting to use Lebanon as a pawn in its scheme for regional domination and would have him killed as part of that plan.
“We are living in a climate similar to the atmosphere that prevailed before the assassination of martyr Rafik al-Hariri. I have sensed what is being plotted covertly to target my life,” Hariri said, referring to the 2005 assassination of his father, which the United Nations attributed to Hezbollah. Reuters notes that Saudi media reported an assassination plot against Saad Hariri was thwarted several days before he resigned.
An analysis at Saudi outlet Al Arabiya, which carried Hariri’s resignation speech, argues that he had good reason to fear for his life, claiming that Hezbollah has allegedly become “virtually a state within a state” in Lebanon that harvests its own tax revenue from the territory under its control, as well as receiving funding and operational assistance from Iran. The article points to a recent meeting between Hariri and advisers to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as evidence Iran was trying to co-opt Hariri for its own purposes and suggests the attempt may have alarmed him enough to trigger his sudden resignation.
Furthermore, the resurgent Assad regime in Syria would not be above using “death squads” to get rid of inconvenient leaders like Hariri, just as Syria is believed to have masterminded a plot to murder his father. Saad Hariri’s Future Movement is part of a strong coalition against dictator Bashar Assad, which succeeded in forcing the removal of Syrian troops from Lebanon years ago.
“For a man with his back to the wall, living in a country where his enemies were closing in on him, Saad Hariri had no choice but to take the decisions he took,” Al Arabiya concludes.
Al Arabiya also suggests Hariri’s family has a long history of successful partnership with the Saudis, so they would be unlikely to abduct him or believe they could install a more amenable leader while he languishes in comfortable detention somewhere. Lebanese Saudi-conspiracy adherents tend to believe Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was disappointed in Hariri for allowing Hezbollah to become so powerful and decided his leadership was not up to the standards of MBS’s aggressive plans for Saudi political and economic transformation.
On the other hand, even Lebanese officials generally aligned with Saudi Arabia have said they believe he is not “expressing himself freely,” as one of them put it to CNN. The official said members of Hariri’s own political bloc have “no idea what’s going on.”
CNN goes on to report that Hariri’s office claims he has “received the Italian and Russian ambassadors to Saudi Arabia in his Riyadh residence on Friday,” in an effort to demonstrate he is not being held prisoner or forced to speak under duress. French ambassador Jean-Yves Le Drian reportedly met with Hariri on Thursday and said in a radio interview that Hariri is not under house arrest.
“Our concern is the stability of Lebanon and that a political solution can be put in place rapidly,” Le Drian added.
The UK Independent attempts to square the circle by suggesting Hariri, who had a full calendar of important international meetings lined up before he abruptly resigned and took up residence in Riyadh, might have been pressured by Crown Prince bin Salman into stepping down. Evidence for this includes the somewhat surprising summons to meet with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz telephoned to Hariri only a few hours in advance, a reception at the airport in Riyadh that looked an awful lot like the police taking Hariri and his team into custody, and Hariri’s extremely terse responses to the few reporters who have been able to get in touch with him since he resigned.
The Independent darkly suggests MBS’s goal is to “destroy the government in Beirut, force the Shia Hezbollah out of the cabinet, and restart a civil war in Lebanon.” The article also implies that, in a time of falling oil revenue, economic transformation, and an anti-corruption crusade that could affect hundreds of billions of dollars in assets, the Saudi government might be looking for a way to wipe out some hefty debts to Lebanese companies, including one owned by Hariri.