London (AHT) – Since 81year old Salman bin Abdelaziz was crowned king of Saudi Arabia in early 2015 and appointed his 32-year-old son, Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), as Minister of Defense and later on crown prince, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has undertaken three attempts aimed at reducing Iran’s expansion in the Middle East.
Soon after becoming Defense Minister, MBS started a war with neighboring Yemen with the declared purpose of defeating the Iranian backed Houthis. With an almost three year ongoing war, it is difficult to understand how the richest nation on earth with the capability of purchasing the most sophisticated weapons has failed so far to defeat the poorest nation in the world. Instead, the Houthis seem to have upgraded their defenses and are now capable of sending ballistic missiles to the Saudi capital, Riyadh. More than 5,000 Yemeni civilians have, to date, lost their lives in Saudi air raids. Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis are suffering from malnourishment and diseases such as cholera due to the war which continues with no end in sight.
The second failed Saudi attempt to reduce Iranian influence in the region is the Saudi led blockade imposed on Qatar earlier this year. The Saudis, with the support of their Gulf allies and Egypt, intended to isolate Qatar as a means of reducing Iranian influence and to put Qatar under the umbrella of the Gulf Cooperation Council lead by Saudia Arabia. Qatar had been known for its “freelance” foreign policy which had elevated the county in the international community largely thanks to its enormous resources in gas and oil. However, this attempt backfired on Saudi Arabia and actually forced Qatar, for survival purposes, into a closer relationship with Iran.
With Iranian influence growing in the Middle East, MBS saw an opportunity in Lebanon. About one year ago, the Lebanese government had reached a compromise bringing together pro-Saudi Sunnis and pro-Iranian Shiites. MBS identified this compromise as fertile soil to sow discord and curb pro-Iranian Hezbollah’s dominance in Lebanese politics.
In an unprecedented move on the 4th of November that shocked the world, MBS summoned Lebanon’s Sunni Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, to Riyadh where Hariri was required to read a prepared letter of resignation. MBS also restricted Hariri’s movements and limited his communications with his family, his closest aides, Lebanon and the world. A monumental and mysterious development in the world of Middle East politics, indeed.
Lebanese saw in this outrageous Saudi action an affront to their national dignity and pride. Despite the close relations and traditional alliance existing between the Sunni community in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, most of the Sunnis strongly disapproved of and resented this move. The Lebanese political establishment, with the exception of a few political leaders, rallied around Prime Minister Hariri. The President of the Republic of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, as well as Sunni and Shiite leaders including the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, called for peace and calm. Saudi action had clearly “muddied the waters”, however, the Lebanese Sunnis had no intention of waging war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The worldwide support for Lebanon including that of the U.S.A., Great Britain and France among others, as well as local Lebanese support, pressured MBS to relent by partially lifting the constraints on Hariri. In a Saudi permitted interview with Lebanese TV station Future TV November 12, 2017, Hariri, apparently shaken, tried to explain in unconvincing words the reasons for his unexpected resignation and promised to return to Lebanon in the next few days.
All indications so far show that this third Saudi foreign policy attempt is bound to fail. In fact, it has, contrary to intentions, actually weakened the Sunnis in Lebanon and there is no indication that Hezbollah dominance will be curbed anytime soon.
Will MBS now try another avenue perhaps by pushing the Palestinians to make a peace deal with Israel against their will just to prove himself on the world stage? Time will tell.