Crisis with Lebanon rooted in Hezbollah dominance, says Saudi minister

Prince Faisal bin Farhan says the dominance of the Iran-backed Hezbollah group continues to allow endemic instability.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. — Reuters file
Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. — Reuters file

By Reuters

Published: Sat 30 Oct 2021, 9:42 PM

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said on Saturday the latest crisis with Lebanon has its origins in a Lebanese political setup that reinforces the dominance of the Iran-backed Hezbollah armed group and continues to allow endemic instability.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries expelled Lebanese envoys in a diplomatic spat that risks adding to Lebanon’s economic crisis, following critical comments about the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen by Lebanon’s Information Minister George Kordahi.

“I think the issue is far broader than the current situation,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud told Reuters in a phone interview. “I think it’s important that the government in Lebanon or the Lebanese establishment forges a path forward that frees Lebanon from the current political construct, which reinforces the dominance of Hezbollah.”

He said this setup “is weakening state institutions within Lebanon, in a way that makes Lebanon continue to process in a direction against the interests of the people of Lebanon”.

The row has triggered calls by some Lebanese politicians for the resignation of Kordahi, while others opposed such a move, which could undermine the government as a whole.

“We have no opinion about the government in Lebanon. We have no opinion as to whether it stays or goes, this is up to the Lebanese people,” the minister, speaking from Rome where he was attending the G20 summit, said.

Kordahi has been publicly backed by Hezbollah and has declined to apologise or resign over the comments.

Saudi Arabia has shunned Lebanon for years because of the strong influence in state affairs of Hezbollah, which it accuses of sending fighters to Yemen and Syria.

Iran and Saudi Arabia launched a series of talks this year hoping to defuse tensions.

“We’ve had four rounds of talks so far. The talks are cordial but remain in an exploratory vein. We continue to hope that they will produce tangible progress ... but so far, we have not made sufficient progress to be optimistic,” Prince Faisal said.

Asked if there will be another round of talks, the minister said nothing had been scheduled, “but we are open to continue”.

As part of efforts to ease tensions, Tehran and Riyadh have engaged on how to end the seven-year conflict in Yemen, where tens of thousands have been killed and millions are at risk of starvation.

The war has also strained relations between Riyadh and its traditional ally Washington, as US President Joe Biden has made ending the war his top foreign policy priority.

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