Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his short-lived resignation in early November under heavy duress from the Saudi Arabian government, according to a New York Times report based on the accounts of Lebanese, Western and regional officials, as well as other figures close to Hariri.
Veteran Middle East watchers immediately suspected that Saudi pressure was at play when Hariri suddenly resigned on Nov. 4 during a visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Times’ report confirms those suspicions and adds new details about what occurred.
Associates of Hariri who spoke to the Times portray a scenario in which Saudi Arabian authorities, under the direction of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, subjected Hariri to political pressure and threats, handing him a pre-written resignation speech that blamed Iran for his departure. The Saudis then held him hostage to ensure that he would comply and carry through with the resignation.
The plan was intended to weaken growing Iranian influence in the region, including Iran-backed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, potentially by sparking a regional crisis, according to the Times.
But after facing severe backlash in Lebanon and from Western governments, Saudi Arabia consented to let Hariri return to Lebanon. He withdrew his resignation earlier this month after his return. The incident quickly unraveled into a public fiasco that cost Saudi Arabia dearly in terms of diplomatic fallout. This will likely lead to increased aggression by Hezbollah forces in the region.
Several Middle East policy experts reacted with shock at the revelations in the Times’ report. Ilan Goldenberg, a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, tweeted that the Saudi Arabian scheme was an “incredible diplomatic clusterfuck.” I can’t say I disagree with him, but I’m far from shocked by the uncovering of yet another example of corrupt Saudi politics leading to gross human rights violations. The only difference here is that the victim is a foreign elected official, thus deemed worthy of the media attention so rarely given to many victims of the Saudi regime.
Shibley Telhami, a Middle East politics professor at the University of Maryland, wrote on Twitter that the article “seems to confirm many of the worst rumors not only about Saudi treatment of Hariri, but also of others.”