If you read media coverage of the latest crisis in Lebanon, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all pretty simple: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is pushing Lebanon to the brink of war that will involve Israel and perhaps even America.
But that simplistic take ignores the fact that the crisis was instigated a while ago — by Iran.
It’s easy to see why the Saudis get blamed: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is scheduled to return to Beirut on Wednesday. He’ll officially hand in his resignation and return to Paris, where he’ll live comfortably from now on — all because his patrons in Riyadh, where the Hariri family acquired its considerable wealth, pushed him to quit.
The Saudis, so the narrative goes, are intensifying this crisis even beyond Hariri’s resignation. They’re pulling cash from Beirut banks, calling on their citizens to avoid Lebanon’s posh hotels and withdrawing investments from the country. Lebanon’s ensuing economic collapse will intensify sectarian rivalries and embolden its most aggressive hotheads.
And (in this narrative’s most ridiculous form) Israeli soldiers will next do Riyadh’s bidding and fight Hezbollah on behalf of the Saudis.
That last one, often heard in conspiratorial tones in Mideastern cafes, rings awfully familiar: From Pontius Pilate through the tsar to Washington’s neocons, Jews have long been accused of whispering evil in the king’s ear. Except in this version, the roles are reversed, and a young, irresponsible Saudi royal is pushing gullible Israelis and Americans into a proxy war in Lebanon.
That, of course, isn’t how Riyadh sees it.
Saudi officials point out it was their country that spent a fortune rebuilding Lebanon after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah left it in ruins. But rather than regaining its status as “Paris on the Mediterranean,” Beirut became an Iranian stronghold and Hezbollah now controls every aspect of Lebanese life.
What happened since the 2006 war was a spectacular Lebanese takeover by Hezbollah. America, which under President Barack Obama saw no evil coming from Tehran, allowed it to happen, blind to the Iranization of Lebanon’s politics, culture and military. (We still train and equip the Lebanese army.)
Meanwhile Hezbollah, created by Iran in the 1980s to counter Israel’s military power, has repurposed its mission. Arguing it must stay armed and dangerous as part of “resistance” to Israel, it in fact became Iran’s model proxy army and its global gun for hire.
Every Shiite Lebanese family has lost someone in Syria, where for over six years Hezbollah has been fighting to achieve Iran’s goal of securing Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power. Hezbollah agents train and supervise Iraqi forces, building Iran-affiliated militias in their own image. They’re in Iranian outposts in Asia, Africa and South America. They even tried to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, DC.
In Yemen, Hezbollah supervises the Houthis’ fight against Saudi-backed forces. Recently the Saudis intercepted Iranian-made missiles shot at Saudi territory from Yemen. No wonder the Saudis are fed up with Lebanon.
True, Prince Mohammed is much better at diving into a crisis than at plotting a strategic way out of it. But it’s Iran, not him, that’s responsible for bringing us here.
And no, Israel isn’t being pushed by Saudis. Jerusalem has long known it one day might need to eliminate the estimated 150,000 Lebanese-based warheads Hezbollah has aimed at its urban centers. But Israel has long sought to postpone that war, knowing how bloody and painful it would be for both sides.
After ignoring Iran’s ruinous Lebanese-centered strategy for over a decade, it’s time America woke up, too: The Saudis aren’t an enemy. They just decided to stop financing, aiding and giving diplomatic cover to a state that endlessly acts against their interests.
Perhaps so should we.