Lebanese prime minister isn’t resigning after all
December 15, 2017 | 70° | Check Traffic

New York Times

Lebanese prime minister isn’t resigning after all

BEIRUT, Lebanon >> A month after he declared under Saudi Arabian pressure that he was quitting his post, Lebanon’s prime minister officially rescinded his resignation today, closing a chapter in a curious political saga that threatened to destabilize Lebanon and transfixed the region.

The reversal by the prime minister, Saad Hariri, was considered a setback for Saudi Arabia and its brash young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who had summoned Hariri to Riyadh last month.

Western diplomats and Lebanese officials have said the prince coerced Hariri into announcing his resignation and effectively kept him under house arrest for more than two weeks, until an international diplomatic scramble brought him home.

The episode was widely seen as an attempt by Saudi Arabia to counter its regional rival, Iran, by collapsing Hariri’s government, which includes Hezbollah, the Shiite militia and political party that is Iran’s Lebanese ally.

But with Hariri and his government staying in place for now, that maneuver has failed, with Hezbollah’s position in Lebanon undamaged and possibly stronger.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has made it a priority to counter the growing regional influence of Iran. The prince was displeased with Hariri’s leadership of a government that included Hezbollah, which has continued to gain new power and weaponry while intervening in the war in neighboring Syria.

Hezbollah has played a leading role in helping President Bashar Assad of Syria counter an insurgency that began with political protests nearly seven years ago and morphed into a multisided war.

Thousands of Hezbollah fighters have gone to Syria and a smaller number to Iraq, transforming the organization from a militia originally formed to fight Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon into a regional force deploying outside Lebanon’s borders.

Nothing about that is expected to change because of the Saudi maneuvering to coerce Mr. Hariri. The attempt fizzled when Lebanon’s president refused to accept the resignation unless Mr. Hariri delivered it in person, and the normally fractious Lebanese united against the Saudi move. The Lebanese were backed by Western and Arab governments led by France and Egypt.

The Lebanese government also announced Tuesday that it was reaffirming its policy of “disassociation” from regional conflicts, adopted in 2013 in an attempt to insulate the country from the war in neighboring Syria.

It has been a policy largely ignored, both by Hezbollah and by Hariri’s party’s offer of early support to Syrian rebels.

Nonetheless, the policy has worked to the extent that open war has not spread to Lebanon, despite its history of political and economic entanglement with Syria and its hosting of more than 1 million Syrian refugees.

One reason for the alarm over the Saudi move to pressure Hariri was the danger that it could further destabilize Lebanon.

Hariri said in a brief statement after a Cabinet meeting today that the government had recommitted to dissociate “from any dispute and conflicts or wars, and not to interfere in the internal affairs of the Arab states, in order to preserve the relationship between Lebanon and its Arab brethren.”

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