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Fri Nov 10, 2017, 02:42 PM

Saudis proxy war threatens Lebanons stability

Saudi Arabia risks committing the original sin of modern Middle East politics ó fighting its regional wars in Lebanon and driving that fragile country once again toward civil strife.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmanís target in Lebanon is Hezbollah, the nationís dominant political force, which is backed by the Saudiís nemesis, Iran. Unwilling to risk a direct shot at Tehran, the crown prince is instead attacking Iranís clients in Beirut.

The proxy battle has escalated over the past week. First, the Saudis pressured Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign last Saturday; hours later, MBS, as the 32-year-old crown prince is known, launched sweeping arrests of rival princes and business leaders in Riyadh, creating an uproar across the region. On Thursday, the Saudi government told its citizens to leave Lebanon and advised against future travel there.

For a Sunni Arab world that fears and loathes Iran, the moves by MBS will probably be popular. Heís emerging as the strongest (if also the most impulsive) Sunni leader in decades, exercising a kind of raw power at home and in the region that hasnít been seen since Iraqís Saddam Hussein.

The Saudi moves have rattled the Lebanese political class but havenít panicked the financial sector. Riad Salameh, the governor of Lebanonís central bank for the past 25 years, said last weekend that the monetary authorities had over $43 billion in reserves, enough to ensure stability. That calmed the markets.

Lebanese officials fear that whatís next is a broader economic quarantine on Lebanon, much as Saudi Arabia has imposed on Qatar. Lebanese sources told me Thursday in telephone interviews that the Saudis want to force Hezbollah to leave the Cabinet and Parliament. Thatís understandable for Riyadh, but not realistic.

Saudi Arabiaís real leverage is that about 500,000 Lebanese work in the Gulf, sending home roughly $3 billion annually, a tide of remittances that keeps Lebanonís financial and property markets afloat. If those Lebanese were expelled, a dramatic downward spiral would begin.

For Lebanon, this is a familiar story. Since the 1950s, regional and global powers have manipulated the countryís all-too-pliable sects for their own advantage.

http://www.heraldnet.com/opinion/ignatius-saudis-proxy-war-threatens-lebanons-stability/?utm_source=DAILY+HERALD&utm_campaign=ee3167dc31-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d81d073bb4-ee3167dc31-228635337

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