Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates took a strong stance against Hezbollah, the powerful Iranian-back Shiite terrorist organization, in a statement about extending economic aid to the ailing nation of Lebanon.

During the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s official visit to the United Arab Emirates last week, Saudi Arabia and the UAE stated the importance of making sure that volatile Lebanon “will not be a starting point for any terrorist acts.”

“On the Lebanese issue, the two sides stressed the need to carry out comprehensive political and economic reforms to ensure that Lebanon can overcome its crises, limit arms to the legitimate state institutions, and that Lebanon will not be a starting point for any terrorist acts and a hub for organizations and groups that target the security and stability of the region – such as the terrorist Hezbollah – or to be a source of drug scourge that threatens the safety of societies in the region and the world,” read part of the joint UAE-Saudi statement on Lebanon. 

Relations are currently tense between Lebanon and the Arab Gulf States after the Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi, backed by Hezbollah, criticized the Saudi-led military operations against the Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists in Yemen. Consequently, The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait all expelled the Lebanese ambassadors from their respective countries and many recalled their ambassadors from Beirut. Just recently, Kordahi resigned in a clear effort by Lebanon to repair its tense diplomatic relations with the Saudis and the other Arab Gulf States. 

The Saudis and Emiratis accuse Hezbollah of smuggling weapons to the pro-Iranian Houthis in Yemen and partly financing its terrorism through an illegal drug export to the Arab Gulf States like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 

Turning to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Saudi Arabia and the UAE expressed their “full support” for the Palestinians’ political aspirations, “foremost of which is their right to establish an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the borders of June 4, 1967, with East Al-Quds (Jerusalem) as its capital…in a way that achieves the aspirations of the fraternally Palestinian people.”

The Emiratis and the Saudis articulated a peaceful two-state solution with an Arab state alongside the Jewish state of Israel as originally envisioned in the UN Partition Plan 1947. The Saudis originally opposed the partition plan and supported the Arab wars against Israel. While Saudi Arabia has still not established official diplomatic relations with Jerusalem, it is moving in that direction. The UAE established full diplomatic relations with Israel in September 2020, along with Bahrain and later Morocco and Sudan in what is called the Abraham Accords. 

The Emirati and Saudi statements reflect the rapidly changing Middle East in general and the dramatically changed Sunni Arab world’s position on Israel in particular. While Israelis and their Arab neighbors may still have disagreements on specific borders and the future of Jerusalem, much of the Arab world is increasingly accepting the Jewish state’s existence as a permanent reality in the Middle East. This positive change is transforming the dynamic of Arab-Israeli relations into “normal” neighborly relations with occasional disagreements that exist elsewhere in the world. 

Turning to regional challenges emanating from the Iranian regime’s aggressive policies, the Saudis and the Emiratis emphasized the importance of dealing “seriously and effectively” with the threats posed by Iran’s illegal nuclear weapons and missile programs. The U.S. Navy recently seized a large Iranian arms shipment earmarked for the Houthis in Yemen. In addition, Washington also authorized a $650 million missile sale to boost Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities against the Iranian-backed Houthis. 

The Iranian regime is widely perceived as a strategic threat in the Middle East by both Israelis and much of the Sunni Arab world. There are serious concerns that Iranian nuclear weapons would spark a nuclear race across the Middle East that would further destabilize the world’s arguably most combustible region. 

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