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Inside Israel: The Saudi Story Behind Hariri’s Resignation

Eliezer Shulman

To understand why al-Hariri threw in the towel where he did, when he did, a review of the key players in the region is in order

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

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The Saudis pulled the plug on al-Hariri’s leadership now because they saw a different opportunity (Photo: AFP/Image Bank)

L ebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri, visiting Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh last Saturday, stepped up to a podium and delivered his resignation speech.

The stunning announcement was as notable for its locale as its repercussions, and spoke volumes about the different players contesting the shifting gameboard in the Middle East.

Although al-Hariri is the son of a previous Lebanese prime minister — Rafic al-Hariri, assassinated in 2005, widely credited with rebuilding Beirut after a long civil war — he was in fact on familiar turf when he declared he was quitting. Riyadh is Saad al-Hariri’s hometown; he was born there in 1970 and grew up to manage his father’s considerable business holdings in Saudi Arabia.

To understand why al-Hariri threw in the towel where he did, when he did, a review of the key players in the region is in order.

Saad al-Hariri

This was al-Hariri’s second turn in the prime minister’s chair. He first gained notoriety for his stewardship of the Saudi Oger construction company, which landed him on lists of the world’s wealthiest people. He initially entered the Lebanese political arena 12 years ago when he assumed leadership of his father’s Tayyar Al-Mustaqbal (“Future Movement”) after the latter’s murder — widely believed to have been carried out by Hezbollah. He became prime minister in November 2009 but lasted only 18 months in the job, after which he retreated to a luxury palace in Paris.

Saudi Arabia

Riyadh is al-Hariri’s patron. The Saudi royal family corralled him from his Paris redoubt and funded his second campaign for the prime minister’s slot in December 2016. The Saudis did it because they saw in him a popular figure who could counter the influence of Hezbollah and its sponsor, Iran. Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia views Shiite Iran — not Israel — as its chief strategic foe and an existential threat to the continued rule of the Saudi royal family. The Saudis pulled the plug on al-Hariri’s leadership now because they saw a different opportunity.

Hezbollah

The Shiite terrorist militia is not interested in rocking the boat or picking any fights right now; it needs quiet so it can rehabilitate the forces it is bringing home from Syria. Hezbollah helped toss out al-Hariri from his first term when his investigation into his father’s assassination led him uncomfortably close to them. But this time they helped al-Hariri run the government, in the hopes of coopting him and buying themselves more time before the next inevitable clash with Israel.

Iran

Tehran continues to try to build Lebanon into its forward position in its strategic encirclement of Israel. Iran has no interest in activating Hezbollah unless Israel attacks its nuclear installations. Efforts against Israel are being carried out in two arenas: In Gaza, the Iranians recently renewed funding of Hamas’s military wing. On the northern border, they constantly supply Hezbollah with precision missiles that can heavily damage IDF assets. Two years ago, Iran even tried to establish a military base on a third front, the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Senior Iranian officers traveling near the border with Israel were killed in an air strike, which foreign media attributes to the IDF.

Israel

Israel does not have any interest in war, but developments in the field have necessitated certain military operations — such as last Wednesday’s bombing of a shipment of precision missiles en route to Hezbollah warehouses in Lebanon, according to foreign reports. For a strike like this to occur at such a sensitive time, it’s safe to assume the delivery was exceptional, and it was crucial to prevent it from reaching Lebanon — which Israel currently refrains from attacking. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 684)

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