Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri emerged as an honest, caring and true statesman in his recent television interview, in which he dismissed rumors about his resignation and his stay in Saudi Arabia.
Yes, he did seem concerned and rather alarmed, but this is not because he is worried about himself, but rather about his country; and, as has emerged, he has every right to be.
The interview itself was solid, even though it was broadcast on Hariri’s own channel, Future Television. The interviewer, TV host Paula Yacoubian, did not hold back, and asked every daring question imaginable — including whether Hariri had been forced to resign, and if he was being held in Riyadh against his will.
Now, whether or not Hariri spoke the truth on all counts is a separate issue, and will always be debatable. Of course, while he would certainly not be the first politician to lie in public, one has to take what he said at face value, particularly given that it made a lot of political sense.
The most important takeaway from the interview was that Saudi Arabia is outraged at Hezbollah’s involvement in Yemen. As Hariri correctly implied, Riyadh may never have liked this Iranian-backed militia before, but there is a big difference now — which is that “Saudis are dying” as a result of the war in Yemen.
As prime minister of a government that includes Hezbollah, Hariri could be held directly responsible for its hostile actions. And given that Hariri — whose late father, Rafik, was probably assassinated by Hezbollah — neither agrees with attacks on a fellow Arab country and major ally such as Saudi Arabia, nor accepts responsibility for the consequences; then it must be argued that it was Hezbollah, not Riyadh, that forced him to step down.
Here it must be pointed out to the highly imaginative warmongers in our midst that the military option against Lebanon is highly unlikely. Even if we were to entertain this idea for a moment, we should remember that Saudi Arabia does not share a border with Lebanon. This means that any airstrikes to take out Hezbollah targets would require coordination with the Jordanians and the Assad regime, with which Riyadh is at war over the massacre of its own people.
Given that Hariri neither agrees with attacks on a fellow Arab country and major ally such as Saudi Arabia, nor accepts responsibility for the consequences, it must be argued that it was Hezbollah, not Riyadh, that forced him to step down.
Faisal J. Abbas
Another fictional scenario is the equally wildly imaginative option of outsourcing the task to Israel, with which Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic ties.
Even if, hypothetically, we believed this to be true, why would Israel bother? As much as Benjamin Netanyahu dislikes the Iranians and their militias, Israel is well protected by its Iron Dome, and its northern borders have been quiet for years now.
Furthermore, airstrikes were tried before, and it is an established fact that they are ineffective against militias who seek protection underground.
It could be argued that perhaps sanctions or a boycott against Lebanon might have been on the table, and that Hariri — knowing only too well how these would hurt Lebanon’s already fragile economy — decided to resign as a way of buying some time to negotiate a way out for his country.
This is going to prove difficult for him. Hezbollah is officially accused of killing his father, and has taken over Beirut by force when challenged in the past.
This is why, rather than speculating and subscribing to the unlikely suggestion that Saudi Arabia is holding Saad Hariri hostage, the international community should be more concerned with guaranteeing his protection when he eventually returns to Lebanon and confronts his government with the incriminating evidence against Hezbollah.
• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas