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Are Lebanon and Saudi Arabia about to end relations?

alaa-alghambdi|By Alaa Alghamdi| Tensions are running high in the Middle East as the relationship between Saudi Arabia and their neighbour Lebanon starts to strain. Saad Hariri’s return after five years has shown to onlookers that Lebanon is a country not at ease with itself, with mixed feelings being vocalised – both by his supporters and his enemies.

Saudi Arabia has for many years served Lebanon by financing various sectors of society in the country that divides it from Iran. However, this has become a point of contention between the governments. Now it has been announced that Saudi Arabia is stopping its aid program to the military in Lebanon as a protest against Hezbollah. Is this the breaking point in the relationship between the two countries for good?

With the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar –calling Hezbollah a ‘terrorist organisation’ couples of days ago, more sanctions are expected to be coming following Hezbollah entering the war in Syria in support of the Syrian President.

GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif al-Zayani said the council would now ‘take the necessary measures to implement its decision… based on anti-terrorism laws applied in the GCC and similar international laws’. What these measures are has not been confirmed but it is expected that further sanctions against Lebanese companies and people are to come in the upcoming weeks.

Shortly after the announcement from Riyadh cancelling the payment, the Lebanese justice minister Ashraf Rifi resigned,both angered by the release of a  former minister who had been charged with smuggling explosives from Syria, and blaming Hezbollah for the country’s politically deadlocked situation.

What has caused this relationship crisis?

The assassination of Lebanese President Rafiq Hariri on 14th February 2005 left a rift in the country’s power structure. While links to the assassination have apparently come from high up in the Syrian government, with possible ties to the phone of Bashar Assad, this rift has been filled with the insidious Hezbollah and its proponents, backed by Iran.

When Hezbollah entered the Syrian war, they caused the Saudis to reassess their views of Lebanon. As the war has continued for five years now, this has further dampened the kind regards that the Saudis formerly felt. This has been made clear to the people in Lebanon; with Saudi-backed media outlets letting the population know that their government is moving the country away from its former friends and into the arms of Iran.

Currently, there is little reaction from the people of Lebanon.  They seem complacent and this, to onlookers, could be taken as consensus from the population. The country is starting to reach a point of crisis and it is up to the Lebanese people to decide what they want – strategically, economically, and politically. The state has lost its free will;  have the people too? Are they going to side with Iran or with the GCC? It could be getting too late for them to make the right decision.