Will Saudi Arabia Restore Relations With Lebanon After Macron's Visit?

Published December 4th, 2021 - 06:23 GMT
Macron (L) is greeted by Mohammed bin Salman
President Macron is greeted by Mohammed bin Salman in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah (AFP)

Don't be too optimistic! The resignation of George Kordahi as the Lebanese Minister of Information may not have the desired effect it is intended to. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries of Bahrain, UAE and Kuwait may not "unfreeze" the diplomatic relations just yet.

They, especially for Riyadh which could well wait regardless of the economic crunch Lebanon faces and the present visit of Emmanuel Macron who just ended a two-day visit to the Arab Gulf countries. 

For Saudi Arabia, it saw the comments of Kordahi on the Yemeni war as just the tip of the iceberg to seek to scale down the influence of Hezbollah and Iran in Lebanon. How that might be is difficult to comprehend leaving Tehran aside for a moment.

For the Lebanese, politicians and ministers, included, in fact right from the top of the power echelon, see Hizbollah at least, as part and parcel of Lebanon's political, social and economic structure, and on practical, pragmatic ground, the organization can't be "emasculated" from the Beiruti body politic because of its military strength and support. 

If Saudi Arabia can come up with a workable plan to reduce the power of Hezbollah, Lebanese politicians including president Michael Aoun and Prime Minister Nejeeb Miqati, will be sure to listen as Hizbollah and the rest of the Shia cohorts have built a strong base in sectarian Lebanon. 

Still, with the willing removal of Kordahi, this is likely to be seen one sticking problem that is  likely to be out of the way. His removal, or apparent willing resignation may likely now start the diplomatic ball rolling. And in fact this has already started as per the meetings of Macron with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman with promises of more talks between Paris, Riyadh and Beirut. 

This in itself strikes a positive tone but it also suggests there is an uphill struggle involved even if relations are stored quickly. There are terms to be sorted out and new understandings to be fathomed.

Saudi Arabia followed by Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait had already recalled their ambassadors and they also said the Lebanese envoys in Riyadh, Manama, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait City would have leave at once. Overnight diplomatic relations were severed.

The Saudis, as well said, it would stop immediately importing from Lebanon - goods worth around $200 million per year gone down the drain in a matter of hours. For a moment, there were fears Lebanese expats were going to be told to leave but it didn't happen obviously because of the long relations between the Lebanese people and Saudi Arabia.

So, this is the situation Lebanon find itself now. One of the reason why Kordahi delayed his resignation was to ensure that diplomatic relations would get back to normal once he goes because of the ramifications and scale of what had happened over the previous two months. But it is early days and the dragging may continue. 

With politics however, nobody is quite sure! Clearly, Kordahi timed his resignation with the visit of Macron to the Gulf countries that took him to the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia with lots of handshakes being made and contracts signed. According to news reports Kordahi was promised by Miqati that Macron, who is a self-declared friend of Lebanon, would raise the issue in Riyadh with the Saudi leadership, and it is obvious this is what behind the Saudi-French protocol doors.

So that's another plus going for Lebanon. The Saudi leadership might possibly bow to Macron's request and re-establish relations with Beirut but it all depends on how Riyadh wants to rub the noses of the politicians in Lebanon for deep down inside, it too, understands it can't do very much about the influence of Hizbollah in Lebanon. 

What it can do however is to press on the Lebanese leadership to make sure they have be  extra vigilant with regards to Iran and control their relation with Tehran. If all goes well more "security coordination" could well be required if Saudi Arabia is to re-establish relations with Lebanon. 

The question of Iran is a bigger thing all together because of their presence in Syria, their influence in Iraq and on their doorstep in Yemen with their Houthis allies. This is not to say anything about the issue of nuclear weapons that is currently being negotiated and talked about in Vienna.

The issue of Lebanon for Saudi Arabia must thus be seen within a complex inter-lapping trajectory of regional and international politics that could be tricky to unwind 

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