The diplomatic crisis between Lebanon and the Saudi-led Arab Gulf states over the Yemen war widened on Tuesday when Bahrain urged its citizens to leave Lebanon “immediately.”
The political tension between the countries was triggered by a recently aired interview with Lebanon’s Information Minister George Kordahi where he criticized the Saudi-led military coalition and defended the Iranian-backed Houthi militia in the ongoing civil war in Yemen.
In an official statement released to the Bahrain News Agency, the Bahraini Foreign Ministry “urged all citizens in Lebanon to leave immediately, following the tense situation there, which calls for extra caution.”
In an effort to resolve the diplomatic crisis, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Muhammad Bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani announced that he would travel to Lebanon “to discuss ways to support” the country and mediate the expanding crisis between Lebanon and the Gulf states.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati reportedly discussed the crisis with the Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani during the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. During another meeting, with Kuwait’s Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al Hamad Al Sabah, Mikati stressed “Lebanon’s keenness to preserve the close relationship with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, and to address any gap in a spirit of brotherhood and cooperation.”
Last weekend, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain all expelled the Lebanese ambassadors in their respective countries. The Gulf states also recalled their own respective ambassadors from Beirut. In addition, the Gulf states have imposed a ban on imports from and prohibited travel to Lebanon. Saudi Arabia, which is leading the diplomatic escalation against the Beirut government, recently designated the Lebanese Al-Qard al-Hassan organization as a terrorist group and froze its assets on Saudi soil for its financial affiliation with the pro-Iranian Shiite Hezbollah terrorist organization.
Once again and against its own will, tiny Lebanon finds itself at the center of a wider regional conflict, this time between the rival powers Iran and Saudi Arabia. While ordinary Lebanese citizens are mostly focusing on surviving their nation’s severe financial crisis which has left them with limited fuel and electricity and skyrocketing prices, the Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah is increasingly pushing the country into a confrontation with the Sunni Arab world.
Hezbollah, based in southern Lebanon, has exerted its influence in Lebanese politics for years now and has become a source of mounting tension between Beirut and Riyadh in recent years.
Its support of Yemen’s Iran-allied Houthi rebels was repeatedly denounced by Saudi officials.
In an interview with the Saudi Al-Arabiya television on Sunday, Saudi Prince Faisal bin Farhan said it was “pointless” dealing with a Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon.
“There is a crisis in Lebanon with the dominance of Iranian proxies over the scene. This is what worries us and makes dealing with Lebanon pointless for the kingdom and for, I think, Gulf countries,” the Saudi prince stated.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese minister Kordahi who sparked the recent political crisis with the Saudi-led bloc stressed that he did not intend to offend anyone but refused resigning. Lebanon’s new Hezbollah-back Prime Minister Najib Mikati has so far unsuccessfully tried to mend ties with Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf states.
However, the tension between Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon and the Gulf states precedes the recent diplomatic controversy. During the past few years, there has been an illicit export of weapons from Lebanon to the pro-Iranian Houthis in Yemen. In addition, narcotic pills have been smuggled from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Gulf states.
In a tweet earlier this year, Waleed Bukhari, Saudi Arabia’s now recalled Lebanese ambassador, commented on the problematic extensive drug trade originating from Lebanon.
“The quantity of drugs and psychotropics smuggled from Lebanon is enough to drown not only Saudi Arabia but also the entire Arab world,” Bukhari tweeted.
While the Saudi ambassador did not specifically mention Hezbollah in his tweet, Hezbollah is widely believed to control everything of importance in Lebanon. Hezbollah’s profitable global drug trade has contributed significantly to finance the pro-Iranian terrorist proxy’s activities throughout the Middle East.
The Saudi anger is connected to the fact that profits from illicit drug exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE have likely been used to finance the pro-Tehran Houthis against the Saudi military coalition in Yemen. In other words, Saudi money has been used by Hezbollah and Iran to finance a war against Saudi interests in neighboring Yemen.
From a Saudi perspective, the latest diplomatic controversy with Lebanon could in fact be an opportunity to settle old scores with Hezbollah and Iran.