The moves by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies on Tuesday to warn their citizens against traveling to Lebanon and the Saudi decision last week to suspend $3 billion in aid to the Lebanese military is a sign the country has fallen squarely into Iran’s orbit.
The Saudis became upset last month when the Lebanese government, represented by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, refused to vote on a joint Arab statement condemning attacks by Iranians on Saudi missions in their country in reaction to the Saudi execution of a prominent Shi’ite cleric.
Lebanese government sources told the London-based daily Asharq al-Awsat in a report published on Wednesday that “preparations are under way to send a government delegation headed by Prime Minister Tamman Salam to undertake a tour of the Gulf countries to clarify the official Lebanese point of view and try to mend the rift.”
But the bridge may already be too far burned to go back to the status quo ante.
“The overriding message in all of this is, we [the Saudis] are not going to pay for a state that is essentially run by Hezbollah and does what it wants,” Tony Badran, a Lebanon expert and research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post.
Saudi Arabia, which is in the midst of a regional war with Iran, is not going to stand by even as certain Lebanese state institutions are aiding Hezbollah with its sectarian war in Syria, said Badran.
“Saudi Arabia is drawing a line in the sand in the region-wide conflict with Iran,” he said, adding that this is not like the old Saudi Arabia that would continue to give money even while their interests were not upheld.
The next thing to watch for, says Badran, is whether the Saudis will push for certain political steps from their allies.
One demand would be for the Future Movement to end its ongoing dialogue with Hezbollah, and another could be for the anti-Hezbollah moderate Sunni block led by former prime minister Saad Hariri to leave the government.
There is talk the Saudis are threatening further financial measures that would not only target Hezbollah-linked Shi’ite businessmen in the Gulf but also pro-Hezbollah Lebanese Christians, continued Badran.
“It is unclear if Saudi Arabia will take additional steps, but the message is clear, we are done underwriting a government that is subordinate to Iran and Hezbollah,” he said.
Top Saudi media personality Jamal Khashoggi, head of a news channel owned by a Saudi prince, published an article in January on the Al-Arabiya News website and in the London- based Al-Hayat newspaper that demonstrated the no-nonsense mood.
The article, headlined “You are either with us, or against us,” stated that “there is a major confrontation between sectarian Iran and free peoples.”