Robert Malley, a prominent American politician and adviser to former President Barack Obama, who was also a specialist in international crises in the previous US administration, explains that there is a convergence between the interests of three sides: the administration of US President Donald Trump, the Israeli government and the new Saudi administration led by Mohammad bin Salman. This convergence was the reason behind the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
In an article published in the American magazine The Atlantic, Malley said that Lebanon has long been a mirror of the Middle East. It has been used by the strongest actors in the region as a battlefield for proxy wars. Today Lebanon is a place used to test Saudi-Iranian conflicts, which is the role they are replaying in the recent period.
Last week, as at any time, the circumstances and conflicts in the Middle East were not far from Lebanon. On 4 November, three consecutive changes have occurred within ten hours and affected the overall situation in the country.
First, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation. His release of the resignation statement from Riyadh was an important indicator of these conflicts.
According to Malley, the Saudi Crown Prince and the de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, had a reason to do so. The Saudi-Iranian tensions have been escalating and bin Salman has been determined to present Tehran as the source of all evils in the region. As for Hariri, heading a government that includes Hezbollah means allowing one of Riyadh’s allies to cooperate with Tehran’s most loyal partner, especially that Hariri was appointed as prime minister within the impression that coexistence with Hezbollah and Iran was possible. But, the way his departure was planned aimed to remove any doubt about it.
The American politician continued saying: “Hariri was appointed as prime minister at a time when the goal was to keep Lebanon out of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry that the country has become now involved in as it joined the crowd of Saudi Arabia’s enemies.
The second event was that Saudi Arabia intercepted a missile that the Houthis launched from Yemen and reached an airport in the heart of Riyadh. This was not the first missile to be launched by the Houthis, but its unprecedented timing and range could make it a unique event. External support for the Houthis raises a lot of controversy, although US and Saudi officials have no doubt that significant advances in the Houthi shells and missiles program cannot occur without the training and assistance of Hezbollah and Iran.
Saudi officials swiftly and publicly linked the Houthis bombing with Iran and Hezbollah. They declared that it was an act of war that Tehran and Hezbollah are responsible for.
The third event that Malley identified was when Saudi Arabia launched a clean-up campaign and more than ten princes, dozens of businessmen and senior officials were placed under house arrest. Bin Salman’s goal seems to be eliminating any potential competition, whether it is military, economic or even in media. This means that he is attacking the bases of the old regime.
Some may wonder if these steps that bin Salman has taken would make him gain more enemies. However, he is now precisely standing in the position he longed for, i.e. the ability to get rid of the supposed negative years of the kingdom and to reform them following the way he believes as appropriate for domestic and foreign policies, specifically to confront Iran more effectively.
Malley, who was a specialist in international crises in Obama’s administration, considers that the three changes point to one direction, which is that the emerging and single-minded Saudi leadership is keen to work with the United States to face an Iranian threat whose extent is believed to become clearer with the events in Yemen today.
This is not all new for Lebanon and the region, as Malley explains. However, what is new could be summed up in three matters: the extraordinary Israeli concerns, the emergence of a radical and provocative Saudi leadership and, of course, the presence of an extraordinary US president. As for Israel, it has warned months ago of the growing influence of Hezbollah and Iran in Syria, and especially Hezbollah’s ability to soon produce locally guided missiles that Israeli officials have long warned of and called for preventing them.
As for the new Saudi leadership, bin Salman is convinced that Iran has been trampling Saudi Arabia for some time and believes that although Tehran has much less money, military equipment, or international allies, it controls four Arab capitals, which are Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. He also believes that only with greater power, Saudi Arabia and its allies could stop Iranian expansion in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, as well as Yemen. Iran’s diplomatic fiasco when Saudi Arabia decided to impose a blockade on Qatar showed that it was going to get involved in crises instead of solving them.
As for the US president Donald Trump, he was consistent in at least one position, the hostility against Iran which has become the hallmark of his administration policy in the Middle East. US officials reveal his willingness to take action against Iran so as to restore the credibility and the US deterrence he feels his predecessor, Barack Obama, has lost. Accordingly, his approach seems to be largely related to that of bin Salman and, of course, to the Israeli calls, namely the rejection of diplomatic agreements with Tehran and the conviction of the need for a new balance of power.