Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Saudi Warns Iran over Lebanon

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal warned Iran not to continue its support of Hezbollah’s “coup” in Lebanon.

“Iran's relations with all Arab countries -- if not all Islamic countries -- would be affected if Iran was supporting the coup that took place in Lebanon,” Faisal said [AFP, 13 May].

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad immediately accused Faisal of following his own agenda in Lebanon, even ignoring the wishes of Saudi King Abdullah.

“Out of respect to His Excellency King Abdullah, I will not respond to Saudi Foreign Minister’s comments,” Ahmadinejad told reporters in Tehran today. “I do remember when we came to an understanding with King Abdullah to form a joint ad-hoc committee to resolve Lebanese problems, al-Faisal said they could resolve the problems by themselves” [Fars News Agency, 13 May 2008]

Ahmadinejad declared that “Iran is the only country that does not interfere in Lebanon.”

Faisal’s comments came after six days of deadly sectarian fighting between Iranian- and Syrian-baked Hezbollah-led alliance of Shia militias and their junior Christian and Sunni partners against US- and Saudi-backed Siniora government supported by Hariri’s Future Movement and Jumblatt’s Druze militias.


William deB. Mills said...

It seems pretty clear that Siniora picked this fight, presumably under the impression that Hariri's new mercenary militia would be able to stand up to Hezballah. The relevance of Welch's recent visit to that decision remains unclear, though the similarity to the sequence of Cheney's March visit to Iraq and subsequent Maliki decision to attack al Sadr is certainly suggestive.

So, sure, I wouldn't be surprised if Iran might somehow have gotten mixed up in this after the fact, but it is hard to see how they can seriously be blamed for something that must have taken them by surprise.

That raises the question of why Saudi Arabia is going out of its way to aggravate relations with Tehran over this. There are of course lots of obvious reasons, but recent Saudi policy toward Iran appears to me very inconsistent. I'd love to see someone bring it into focus!

Nader Uskowi said...

William, the question you’ve raised on recent Saudi-Iran behavior is a critically important one and difficult to answer. I do not even try to bring it into focus; just a few observations.

Iran and Saudi indeed had agreed to form a joint task force to “coordinate” policies on Lebanon. Knowing how different views they had held on the subject, one can probably guess that by “coordination” they meant consultation and eliminating surprises. The task force actually met in Damascus the day before the Arab Summit. Contents of the discussions were not released. By highly undiplomatic exchanges that took place today between Riyadh and Tehran, the developments must have come as a surprise to one of them.

Ahmadinejad’s disclosure today, at a news conference, of a very private meeting between him, King Abdullah and Faisal was very surprising and highly unusual. You just don’t do these! He even tried to create an impression that Faisal was acting as a free agent, even disregarding King Abdullah’s wishes. Risky territory to navigate! Faisal and Abdullah are members of a very small circle in Riyadh who makes major foreign policy decisions, including relations with Iran and developments in Lebanon. Highly unlikely that Faisal acts as a free agent. He’s known to hold anti-Iran and anti-Hezbollah views and have been very active recently on both issues. But he must have the support of others.

Faisal openly blaming Iran for Lebanon is also highly surprising. The media close to the royal families have been saying it, but unusual to come from the prince himself.

Something must have happened. One of them must have reneged on “understanding” reached at Damascus meeting. Iran pushing Hezbollah to take over West Beirut, and to withdraw later, to prove the point of who’s the boss, or Saudis pushing Siniora (and Hariri and Jumblatt, who are the real actors behind the government) to move against Hezbollah, thinking the group would not risk politically to start shooting the Lebanese in Lebanon’s capital (erasing its advantage as a resistance movement defending all Lebanon against Israel).