Relations appear to be thawing in Lebanon between the Sunni-dominated Future movement and Shi’ite Hezbollah, despite the sharp rise in sectarian tensions in the region. Tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites have increased in Lebanon over the past few years because of the civil war next door in Syria.
“Direct contact between the two parties started around 12 days ago,” and has consisted of “serious dialogue and contact which may lead to some sort of an understanding,” sources close to Hezbollah told Asharq al-Awsat, in a report published on Tuesday.
There was security cooperation between the two sides, such as the participation of a senior member of Hezbollah’s Coordination and Liaison Unit, Wafiq Safa, in a meeting with commanders of security departments led by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, the sources said.
Former prime minister Saad Hariri, who leads the Future Movement, is aligned regionally with Saudi Arabia against the Iran-Hezbollah-Syria axis.
Many members were upset with the new contacts, believing Hezbollah should have been barred from the country’s governing coalition until it withdraws its fighters from Syria.
“The dialogue with the party, if it takes place, will happen indirectly and not at high level, and it will be limited to guaranteeing stability in Lebanon,” Future Movement MP Mustafa Alloush said. The discussions seek “to reach understandings to bring it [Hezbollah] in line with the state’s policies and end involvement in international conflicts, and to stop allowing Lebanon to be used as a pawn by regional parties,” he added, according to the newspaper.
This comes after reports of a thaw in relations between the two main powers in the region – Saudi Arabia and Iran. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, chairman of Iran’s Expediency Council, in a meeting last week with Saudi Arabia’s new ambassador to Iran, Abdul Rahman al-Shehri, called for warmer relations between Tehran and Riyadh.
“The development of bilateral relations at all levels will serve interests of the two countries, and encourage other Islamic countries to improve relations among them,” Rafsanjani said, according to the Kuwait News Agency. Shehri said, “The enemies of Islam are pleased to seek Muslims killing each other because of unfounded beliefs.”
Abdullah Hamidaddin, writing on the Saudi backed Al-Arabiya website, said the closer cooperation between Iran and the US has led to more cooperation between Tehran and the Saudis.
Despite the uproar caused in the kingdom by a photo of the Saudi ambassador kissing Rafsanjani on the forehead during their meeting, the Iranian power- broker has always sought to improve relations between the two countries, Hamidaddin wrote.
“This of course does not mean that their differences will evaporate,” he observed.
Still, signs of better Saudi-Iran relations could be only superficial as there are indications that the Saudis and their Gulf allies continue to be seriously worried about Iran’s rising power. A senior member of Saudi Arabia’s royal family said last week that Gulf states should work on acquiring nuclear know-how to balance any threat from Iran.
Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former intel ligence chief, told a security conference in the Bahraini capital, Manama, that the Gulf states should be prepared for any possible outcome from Tehran’s nuclear talks with world powers.
“We do not hold any hostility to Iran and do not wish any harm to it or to its people, who are Muslim neighbors,” he said in a speech. “But preserving our regional security requires that we, as a Gulf grouping, work to create a real balance of forces with it, including in nuclear know-how, and to be ready for any possibility in relation to the Iranian nuclear file. Any violation of this balance will allow the Iranian leadership to exploit all holes to do harm to us,” the prince said.
Reuters contributed to this report.