Tensions between Saudis and Hezbollah reflect an Arab world divided on Iran
Leader of Hezbollah labeled Saudi King Salman a “terrorist”
The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon recently blasted the Iran-backed Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah as a threat to Lebanon’s stability and the wider Arab world.
“Riyadh hopes that the political parties will give priority to the supreme interest of Lebanon… and end Hezbollah’s terrorist hegemony over every aspect of the state. Hezbollah’s terrorist activities and regional military behavior threaten Arab national security,” Waleed Bukhari, the Saudi ambassador, told AFP.
The harsh Saudi statement came as a response to the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s recent verbal attack on the Saudi king. The Hezbollah leader accused Saudi Arabia of spreading the radical Saudi-based Islamist Wahabi ideology as being responsible for the spread of ISIS.
“Your highness the king, the terrorist is (the side) who exported Wahhabi-Daeshi ideology to the world and they are you,” Nasrallah said during a speech in the Lebanese capital Beirut.
The Hezbollah leader also accused the Saudis of holding thousands of Lebanese expats in the Gulf region as “hostages.”
This last accusation is quite ironic since many Lebanese citizens believe that Hezbollah and its Iranian patron hold entire Lebanon hostage to the political whims of the ayatollah rulers in Tehran at the expense of Lebanon’s wellbeing.
At the center of the tensions is the Shiite Iranian regime’s increased influence in the Sunni Arab world, especially through its powerful terrorist proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen and terrorist militias in Syria and Iraq. Iran has fomented tensions between Sunnis and Shias in the Arab states as a political tool for seeking hegemonic control over much of the Arab world.
Diplomatic relations between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states have deteriorated sharply in recent months after the former Lebanon Information minister George Kordahi expressed support for the Iranian-backed Houthi terrorist militia in Yemen civil war against the Saudi-led Gulf Arab coalition. This led to a diplomatic crisis where Lebanese ambassadors were expelled from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait. In addition, the Gulf Arab states also withdrew their ambassadors from Beirut. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states accuse the Lebanese Hezbollah of financing the Houthi war and illegally selling smuggled drugs on the Gulf Arab market.
The Saudis and their Gulf Arab allies have regularly accused Iran and Hezbollah of providing weapons and training to the Houthis in Yemen. Tehran and Hezbollah have denied the charges but few in the Arab world believe them.
For instance, the Houthis have launched several sophisticated drone attacks on strategic Saudi targets, which have all the hallmarks of the Iranian regime.
While the former Trump administration supported Saudi Arabia in the war against Iranian-backed forces in Yemen, the current Biden administration initially decided to distance itself from the Saudis and embrace a more neutral position. However, Iran’s increased regional aggression in the Middle East and deliberate foot-dragging in the nuclear talks in Austria, have pushed the Biden administration’s patience with Iran to the limit.
In early December, the U.S. diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia vocally condemned the Houthi attack on Saudi Arabia. In addition, Washington accused the Iran-backed Houthis of undermining peace efforts in Yemen and referred to the Saudis as “allies.”
“The U.S. Mission to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia condemns in the strongest terms the Houthi attack on Riyadh on December 6. The Houthis’ attacks endanger innocent civilians, cities, and critical infrastructure. Through every attack, the Houthis demonstrate that they are not interested in peace. We reiterate our commitment to the security of Saudi Arabia and stand united with our Saudi partners. We again call on the Houthis to end the violence, allow for the unfettered distribution of humanitarian aid, and engage diplomatically under UN auspices to end this conflict and bring peace to the people of Yemen,” read the official statement from the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia.
Once feared at home, the powerful Hezbollah increasingly faces harsh criticism in Lebanon, both in the parliament and among regular people in the streets.
“The criticism against Hezbollah is growing fast. Many people are talking about it out loud. The press is very militant these days, and there is also a criticism that is expressed through social networks, namely Twitter. In 2019 (Hezbollah’s) offices were targeted in Nabatiyeh, in the heart of their own base,” Dr. Moran Levanoni, a Lebanon expert from Tel Aviv University recently told The Media Line.