(New York, N.Y.) — On Friday, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic and economic ties with Lebanon by suspending all imports from the country, expelling the Lebanese ambassador from Riyadh, and recalling its own envoy. The move came in response to remarks by Lebanese Minister of Information George Kordahi criticizing the Saudi military intervention in Yemen against the Iran-backed Houthi militia. The Houthis have forced the legitimate Yemeni government into exile and launched terror attacks on Saudi and Yemeni civilians and infrastructure. Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib has since rejected Saudi demands to reduce Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon, telling Reuters, “Hezbollah is a component of politics in Lebanon.”
Kordahi’s remarks exacerbated long running tensions between Gulf Arab states and Beirut rooted in Iranian meddling in Lebanon through its terrorist proxy force Hezbollah. In February 2017, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud canceled a trip to Lebanon after President Michel Aoun made a series of pro-Hezbollah statements. After Hezbollah condemned a May 2017 Bahraini domestic counterterrorism raid, Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa warned that the Lebanese government would be held “responsible for statements made by its partner Hezbollah and its aggressive terrorist leader that insults the Kingdom of Bahrain.” Bahrain joined Saudi Arabia in taking similar diplomatic action on Friday, as did the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait.
Iran-backed Hezbollah has consistently undermined Lebanese sovereignty, thrust Lebanon into political crisis, and damaged Lebanon’s relationships in the region. Hezbollah is suspected of assassinating former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. In November 2017, anti-Hezbollah and anti-Syrian Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned and fled to Saudi Arabia, alleging that Hezbollah had attempted to assassinate him. The following month, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir declared that Lebanon had been “hijacked” and would “only survive or prosper if [it] disarm[s] Hezbollah.” Saudi Arabia has also been a targeted market for Hezbollah’s global trade in amphetamines and illicit substances that provide supplemental funding for its terror operations.
Lebanon’s Gulf neighbors have in recent years taken action against Hezbollah and Lebanon. The Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League have both designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Saudi Arabia has previously exacted economic punishment on Lebanon’s government over Hezbollah’s influence, such as banning Lebanese produce this past April after authorities seized more than five million Captagon pills hidden in a Lebanese pomegranate shipment. Lebanon faces further political and economic isolation if the Lebanese people cannot extricate themselves from Hezbollah’s influence.
To read the Counter Extremism Project (CEP)’s resource Hezbollah, please click here.
To read CEP’s Lebanon resource, please click here.