Lines are being drawn in the sands of the Middle East this weekend as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait have all expelled the Lebanese ambassadors in their respective countries after the nation’s information minister criticized Saudi-led military operations against Iranian-backed Houthi militias in Yemen.
These countries have all withdrawn their ambassadors from Lebanon as well.
In an interview with an Al Jazeera-affiliated online network, Lebanon’s Information Minister George Kordahi argued that the Tehran-backed Houthi terrorist militias are “defending themselves… against an external aggression,” implying that the Saudis and Emiratis are the “aggressors” in the civil war in Yemen.
Kordahi claimed that “homes, villages, funerals and weddings were being bombed,” indirectly accusing the Saudis and Emiratis of war crimes against Yemenite civilians. Kordahi also labeled the war in Yemen as “futile” and stressed that it was “time for it to end.”
The four Gulf states have all given the Lebanese ambassadors in their nations 48 hours to leave their respective countries.
The devastating civil war in Yemen has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians and displaced millions. In a 2019 report, the United Nations defined the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as the worst in the world and the situation remains critical in 2021.
However, the Saudis and the Emiratis deny that their air forces deliberately target civilians there while the Saudis argue that they are defending themselves against Iranian-backed Houthi missile and drone attacks from Yemen against Saudi Arabia.
In its reprimand of the Lebanese ambassador, The UAE foreign ministry argued that the Lebanese minister’s statements “reflect Lebanon’s growing distance from its Arab brotherly countries.”
The Saudis have accused the Lebanese Shiite terrorist organization Hezbollah – backed by Iran – of sending fighters to Yemen to fight in support of the pro-Iranian Houthis.
While much of Lebanese society opposes Iranian influence, Iran-backed Hezbollah remains the most powerful actor in today’s Lebanon. Hezbollah is widely believed to be more powerful than the conventional Lebanese military. In addition, pro-Iranian Hezbollah wields enormous political power in the fractured Lebanese political system.
In September, Lebanon – facing its severest socio-economic crisis ever – formed a new government led by the new Hezbollah-backed Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Since Hezbollah is Iran’s most loyal terrorist regional proxy and has been fighting against other Arabs in Syria and Yemen on behalf of its Iranian masters in Tehran, it is not surprising that the Saudis and Emiratis are not amused.
In another sign of growing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, Saudi Arabia recently designated the Lebanese Al-Qard al-Hassan (AQAH) association as a terrorist organization for its financial support of Hezbollah. Saudi Arabia decided consequently to freeze all of AQAH’s assets in Saudi Arabia and outlawed any business with the organization.
The Lebanese minister Kordahi who started the controversy, defended his criticism of the war in Yemen and claimed that it was an expression of Arab loyalty towards other Arabs.
“I did not wrong anyone. I did not attack anyone. Why should I apologize? I stated my position with love as a human who feels Arab suffering,” Kordahi stated.
Trying to avoid a diplomatic crisis, Mikati said the minister’s opinions did not represent Beirut’s policy and claimed that his government was in fact eager to improve its diplomatic relations with other Arab states.
While Lebanon’s Hezbollah remains loyal to the Iranian ayatollah regime, much of the Sunni Arab world including the UAE and the Saudis are increasingly forming closer overt and covert ties with the Jewish state, which Iran’s regime has vowed to destroy.