The Lebanon Crisis Explained

As the wars in Syria and Iraq start to draw to a close, a new country appears to be at risk of a civil war - Lebanon.

 On November 4th of 2017, Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, resigned, giving his speech from Saudi Arabia and also including a strong condemnation of Iran. Several rumors suggested that Saudi Arabia pressured Hariri into making the surprise announcement, given that Hariri (while aligned with Saudi Arabia) was no Sunni hardliner. The resignation, while intended to deescalate sectarian tensions within the tiny Arab nation, appeared to have the opposite effect. Hezbollah, the extremely powerful and well-armed political and military group, interpreted Saudi Arabia’s actions as a declaration of war against Lebanon.

 Another drastic turn came on November 22nd, when Hariri “suspended” his resignation after a visit to Lebanon. Later, on December 5th, Hariri officially withdrew his resignation, which appeared to be a major blow to Saudi Arabia. However, Hariri has not disclosed any details of his interactions with Saudi Arabia, leaving much to speculate about. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon have yet to accredit each other’s ambassadors, which is yet another dynamic in the relationship between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Additionally, the role of French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron in the crisis has been odd to say the least, with France, although no longer the great power it once was, providing a sense of legitimacy to Hariri.

 So, what are the motives of both Saudi Arabia and Iran? In order to answer this question, we must first look at Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a political party in Lebanon that has 12 seats in the Lebanese parliament, and has numerous political allies and sympathizers, including President Michel Aoun. Additionally, Hezbollah is the most powerful non-state actor on Earth, and has a military force equivalent to that of a medium-sized country. Hezbollah possesses roughly 120,000 missiles, thousands of troops, and a few dozen tanks. While Hezbollah initially was formed during the Lebanese Civil War to counter Israel’s presence in South Lebanon (and is still engaged in active warfare with Israel), it has since then evolved, becoming a proxy group for Ayatollah Khamenei and Iran, and dedicating many soldiers and resources into fighting Iran’s proxy wars. Notably, Hezbollah forces are currently fighting in Syria in an effort to preserve the Assad regime.

 The presence of an extremely well armed and powerful, Shiite militia in Lebanon is not comforting at all to Saudi Arabia. Indeed, one of Saudi Arabia’s greatest fears is a potential Hezbollah takeover in Lebanon, a scenario not out of the realm of plausibility, given that Hezbollah is stronger than the Lebanese Army. Hezbollah already has enough influence in Lebanon, and by squashing out Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia would reverse the string of misfortune it has suffered in its campaign against Iran - from losing entirely in Syria and Iraq, to being fought to an expensive stalemate in Yemen, to the 6 month long ongoing standoff with Qatar that has resulted in Iran gaining another ally.

 The crisis in Lebanon is another facet of the brutal campaign between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In the Middle East, only cunning, strong, and forceful leaders can survive. Whatever occurs in Lebanon will help to show which leaders fit the bill for survival.


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