Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s switch of loyalty to Hizballah and Iran shocks Riyadh and dismays Israel.
The Lebanese Sunni politician and his family have long been inextricably tied to Saudi Arabia and its royal house, as well as professing a pro-West orientation. However, it was suddenly noticed in Riyadh, as well as Jerusalem, that the most devoted Saudi loyalist in Beirut had quietly crossed the lines.
Hariri had quietly decided to follow the Iranian star and throw in his political lot with his old enemy, the Shiite Hizballah. And they had promised he would retain the premiership after Lebanon’s May 8 general election, in which their Shiite March 8 Alliance was sure to win a majority in parliament.
Caught unawares by Lebanon’s imminent slide into the Iranian orbit, Saudi rulers hurriedly summoned Hariri to Riyadh. He arrived Wednesday Feb. 28. But it was too late to change him back.
The prospect of an Iranian puppet government in Beirut is stunning news for Riyadh, which has traditionally regarded Beirut with its banks and varied luxuries as their back yard. But for Israel, it spells disaster. It means that Iran has succeeded in expanding its ominous, belligerent presence into both of Israel’s northern neighbors, Lebanon as well as Syria.