As Iranian nuclear deal approaches, Saudi Arabia is rebuilding its stake in Lebanon

One of Lebanon’s biggest benefactors, Saudi Arabia’s ties with Beirut had progressively deteriorated over the past decade, a split fueled by Hezbollah’s growing influence in the country, backed by Iran. This came in 2017 when Hariri, once Saudi Arabia’s main ally in Lebanon, resigned in a televised statement from Riyadh. Lebanese politicians said he was forced to make the decision later be detained in the kingdom. Hariri and Saudi Arabia have denied such claims.
Tensions culminated in a break in relations in October following Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi’s outspoken criticism of the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen. The comments were made before Kordahi took office, but Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states withdrew their envoys from Beirut after tapes of criticism resurfaced. The minister later resigned.
Lebanon has been suffering for more than two years from a financial crisis which according to the World Bank is one of the world crises worse from the nineteenth century. The troubles of the Levantine country have been further exacerbated by political disputes, corruption and disputes over a delicate system of power-sharing.

However, ties to Riyadh appear to be on the mend. Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies Kuwait and Yemen have said they will restore their ambassadors to Beirut. The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon also hosted a Ramadan iftar banquet, which was attended by Lebanese leaders and former officials.

Do Saudi and Arab overtures to Lebanon indicate a change of opinion? And why now?

Michael Young, editor-in-chief of Beirut’s Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center, told CNN what it means for Saudi-Lebanese relations and the region at large.

How much have Lebanon’s relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states deteriorated since 2017, and especially in the past year?

The relationship has been problematic for several years because the Saudis had a sensitive belief that Hezbollah was the dominant political force in the country. In part this has also been exacerbated by the fact that Hezbollah has sided with the Houthis in Yemen, and is obviously a close ally of Iran. This has generated Saudi hostility towards Lebanon. This situation has also been aggravated by the fact that relations between Saudi Arabia and Hariri have not really been very good in recent years.

At the same time, I think Saudi interests have shifted elsewhere. The eye of the Saudis is obviously on Iran, but the relationship with the United States and the war yemen have been a big concern.

What do you think of the recent openings of the Gulf states? Are the bonds on the mend?

There is a new way in which Arab countries in general deal with both Syria and Lebanon … Openness to Lebanon is something along the lines of openness to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. These two are not completely separate.

The Arab attitude today is that they need to engage more with Syria and Lebanon. If they want to contain Iran in the region, they must reopen ties, [and] rebuild their stakes in countries like Syria and Lebanon. And so it makes sense to them right now, particularly if the JCPOA [the collapsed 2015 Iran nuclear agreement currently in renegotiation] it will be signed, to take a new position – no longer a policy of isolation, but a policy of strengthening the stakes in both countries.

How does Lebanon benefit from improved relations with Saudi Arabia Could they help him out of the economic turmoil?

I think nobody wants to give money to Lebanon until there are economic reforms in the country. Nobody wants to lose money in Lebanon like they used to. If Lebanon is to benefit from economic aid in the future, it will obviously have to come mainly from the Arab world, in particular from the Arab countries of the Gulf. Any Sunni Prime Minister in Lebanon, and in particular the current Sunni Prime Minister Mikati, has an interest and is very eager to have good relations with the Gulf countries. And they don’t want to allow Hezbollah to undermine those relations.

I don’t see any money coming from the Gulf states until the reforms are introduced … The Gulf will look at things like the progress of Lebanon’s deal with the IMF (International Monetary Fund). If Lebanon introduces reforms and the IMF deal is successful, then there is a good chance they will help Lebanon. But until then, the most they are willing to do is help Lebanon on humanitarian grounds, which basically means they will not work through the Lebanese state.

The transcript has been edited for length and clarity

Other important news about the Middle East

The Iranian president says he will target Israel’s heart at the “least move” against the country

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said in a military parade on Monday that Iran will aim at the heart of Israel with the “least move” against the Islamic Republic.

  • Background: Israel and Iran are longtime enemies and Tehran still refuses to recognize the state of Israel. When talks between Iran and Western powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal appeared to be nearing conclusion, progress stalled on a number of final tipping points, including Iran’s demand that the United States remove its Corps of Islamic Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) elite from a list of designated foreign terrorist organizations. Israel is among a number of regional states – mainly Gulf monarchies – that have expressed concern over Iran’s growing weight if sanctions are lifted following a nuclear deal.
  • Because matter: Israel has previously stated that it is not bound by any agreement and that it could eventually proceed to take unilateral action against Iranian nuclear sites. As the two states continue to target each other’s interests across the region, the US continues to reassure Israel and its Gulf allies that it will prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and that its attacks will be curbed.

Putin and the Saudi Crown Prince discuss OPEC +, Ukraine in a phone call – Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed “joint work in OPEC +” on Saturday to “ensure the stability of the oil market,” the Kremlin said in a statement. statements. The leaders also exchanged thoughts on the “situation surrounding the settlement in Ukraine and Yemen”.
  • Background: OPEC +, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, including Russia, have so far refused to listen to US calls to increase oil production following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, causing severe shortages of supply and an increase in crude oil prices. In March, OPEC + also decided to drop International Energy Agency data in assessing the state of the oil market.
  • Because matter: Saudi Arabia and Russia have seen stronger ties in the past two years, manifested in more investment and a boost to bilateral trade. Amid fears of a weakened US military presence in the Middle East, US-Saudi relations have been further strained by Gulf concerns over a renegotiated nuclear deal with Iran, as well as US President Joe Biden’s refusal to deal directly with the crown prince, the de facto de sovereign.

Libyan oil company warns of closures as operations halt

On Monday, the Libyan National Oil Company declared force majeure at the port of Zueitina and the Al-Sharara oil field and warned of a “painful wave of closures”.

  • Background: On Sunday, Libya halted oil production from its El Feel field after protesters demanding the resignation of Tripoli Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah took control of the oil fields. Libya has had two competing governments since March, when the east-based parliament appointed Fathi Bashagha to replace Dbeibah, renewing a stalemate between the country’s east and west.
  • Because matter: Disruption of operations at El Feel and Zueitina would paralyze Libya’s oil production, which averaged 1.21 million barrels per day before the latest disruptions.

What to watch

As tensions between Israel and Palestinians escalated in Jerusalem over the weekend, Palestinian politician Dr. Mustafa Barghouti told CNN’s Becky Anderson that Palestinians are angry at the international community’s “double standards” when it comes to Israel. .

“Russia receives more than 6,000 punitive acts and sanctions, [whereas there is] not a single sanction against the Israeli occupation, “he said.

Watch the interview here.

Around the region

“Suits Arabia,” the Arabic adaptation of the hit American series “Suits,” has been sued by an Egypt-based fashion brand, which claims the show’s producers did not pay for the clothes worn on the show.

“Suits Arabia” was a highly anticipated show this Ramadan with some high profile cast members like Saba Mubarak and Asser Yasin starring in the legal drama.

The original OSN show almost mirrors the sequence of events of its American counterpart. The main cast was given Arabic names like Zain Thabet for Harvey, Adam Mansour for Mike, and Laila Radwan for Rachel.

The story follows a lawyer with a photographic memory but without a law degree who is taken under the wing of an experienced, well-dressed lawyer with a penchant for winning causes. It is the American show that introduced the now Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, to viewers and the world.

Staying true to the original series, the characters in “Suits Arabia” are dressed in couture clothing provided by the fashion label Orange Square. The fashion house, which is suing the show’s production company TVision Media for about $ 145,000 in the price of the clothes and over $ 540,000 in damages, told CNN that the show did not pay for the clothing provided for it. show and demanded that the series be taken out of the air until the money is paid.

In a statement to CNN, Orange Square claims it is entitled to damages “due to the exploitation of its products and failure to pay its price”.

TVision expressed shock at the claims in a statement posted on its Facebook page, claiming it has a 20-year reputation in the industry for honoring all financial commitments. Since then, the production house has filed a counter-suit for civilian reimbursement of more than $ 1 million in damages, according to the statement.

“It is important for the company to ensure that it does not owe anyone anything,” the statement read.

Orange Square told CNN that a court date has been set for May 7 in Egypt and a motion has been filed to stop broadcasting the show until the full amount has been paid.

By Muhammad Abdelbary

Photo of the day

A boy receives communion from an Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christian priest on April 17, during a Palm Sunday mass in the monastery of Samaan el-Kharaz, in the Mokattam area of ​​Cairo, Egypt.