Saudi Arabia becomes third Gulf state to urge citizens to leave Lebanon

Saudi Arabia became the third Gulf state in the last few days to recommend that its nationals leave Lebanon.  Previously, Bahrain and Qatar issued similar cautions.

Three days ago, Saudi Arabia said Lebanon had "declared war" on the kingdom.  The meaning of this statement was unclear, given that Lebanon and the Saudis do not share a border.  But the Saudis say Hezb'allah, who is running Lebanon, has attacked Saudi interests.  The Saudis may be referring to the forced resignation of Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri, who cited threats against his life by Hezb'allah.

Rumors are running wild in Saudi Arabia of a bloodless coup underway that would replace King Salman with his son, Mohammed bin-Salman.  In recent days, the younger Salman has arrested more than 200 high-ranking government officials and clerics, ostensibly on charges of "corruption."  But the arrests could very well be a prelude to a change at the top.

Zero Hedge reports that the media outlet Al-Arabiya tweeted of the imminent change of leadership but later deleted it.  With little hard information, I guess we're just going to have to wait for events to develop.

Is war brewing between the Saudis (and perhaps other Gulf states) and Hezb'allah?  It's possible but not likely.  Any military force starting in Saudi Arabia that wishes to engage Lebanon would have to cross the entire width of Jordan's territory.  The last thing the government of Jordan wants is to become embroiled in a Sunni-Shiite conflict between the Gulf states and Hezb'allah.  Jordan is not likely to give permission.

The travel warning to Lebanon may be more related to Hezb'allah's nasty practice of seizing foreign nationals than any war scare.  If the terrorists believe that the Saudis may go to war, seizing a couple of Saudi hostages would be expected.

The Saudis have an advanced air force that could attack Hezb'allah positions in Lebanon's Bekka Valley.  That's where the terrorists' command and control headquarters are, as well as training facilities.  The kingdom could certainly strike a blow at Hezb'allah, but to what end is unclear.

Crown Prince Salman is clearly in charge of foreign policy, regardless of whether he assumes the title of king.  Whatever Saudi intentions are toward Hezb'allah and its Iranian patrons, it appears that the kingdom feels that a Hezb'allah coup in Lebanon would represent an existential threat to the regime. 

For Lebanon's part, it is accusing Saudi Arabia of holding Prime Minister Hariri against his will.  Some government sources have also claimed that the Saudis ordered Hariri to resign and are holding him under house arrest.  Any of this is possible.  The Saudis were reportedly unhappy with Hariri, who they believe had demonstrated too much flexibility in dealing with Hezb'allah and other pro-Syrian factions in Lebanon.  But Hariri is close personal friends with the crown prince and many in the royal family.  It's far more likely that Hariri is lying low as events play out across the Middle East.

Is Saudi Arabia ready to confront Iran and Hezb'allah?  If King Salman abdicates in favor of the crown prince, you might expect big changes on the way.  The Saudis see themselves at a crossroads domestically and in the region.  The crown prince has shown he is dead serious about reform.  It is he who is prosecuting the war against the Houthis and Iran in Yemen.  It is he who has made small moves to loosen the grip of the fundamentalist Wahhabi clergy who dominate in Saudi Arabia.  And it is he who is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into the 21st century.

Salman's biggest challenge is how to confront Iran without blowing up the Middle East.  He may have opted to confront Hezb'allah, Iran's major proxy in the region, rather than Iran directly.  Whether that will deter Iranian aggression in the region is unknown.

Saudi Arabia became the third Gulf state in the last few days to recommend that its nationals leave Lebanon.  Previously, Bahrain and Qatar issued similar cautions.

Three days ago, Saudi Arabia said Lebanon had "declared war" on the kingdom.  The meaning of this statement was unclear, given that Lebanon and the Saudis do not share a border.  But the Saudis say Hezb'allah, who is running Lebanon, has attacked Saudi interests.  The Saudis may be referring to the forced resignation of Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri, who cited threats against his life by Hezb'allah.

Rumors are running wild in Saudi Arabia of a bloodless coup underway that would replace King Salman with his son, Mohammed bin-Salman.  In recent days, the younger Salman has arrested more than 200 high-ranking government officials and clerics, ostensibly on charges of "corruption."  But the arrests could very well be a prelude to a change at the top.

Zero Hedge reports that the media outlet Al-Arabiya tweeted of the imminent change of leadership but later deleted it.  With little hard information, I guess we're just going to have to wait for events to develop.

Is war brewing between the Saudis (and perhaps other Gulf states) and Hezb'allah?  It's possible but not likely.  Any military force starting in Saudi Arabia that wishes to engage Lebanon would have to cross the entire width of Jordan's territory.  The last thing the government of Jordan wants is to become embroiled in a Sunni-Shiite conflict between the Gulf states and Hezb'allah.  Jordan is not likely to give permission.

The travel warning to Lebanon may be more related to Hezb'allah's nasty practice of seizing foreign nationals than any war scare.  If the terrorists believe that the Saudis may go to war, seizing a couple of Saudi hostages would be expected.

The Saudis have an advanced air force that could attack Hezb'allah positions in Lebanon's Bekka Valley.  That's where the terrorists' command and control headquarters are, as well as training facilities.  The kingdom could certainly strike a blow at Hezb'allah, but to what end is unclear.

Crown Prince Salman is clearly in charge of foreign policy, regardless of whether he assumes the title of king.  Whatever Saudi intentions are toward Hezb'allah and its Iranian patrons, it appears that the kingdom feels that a Hezb'allah coup in Lebanon would represent an existential threat to the regime. 

For Lebanon's part, it is accusing Saudi Arabia of holding Prime Minister Hariri against his will.  Some government sources have also claimed that the Saudis ordered Hariri to resign and are holding him under house arrest.  Any of this is possible.  The Saudis were reportedly unhappy with Hariri, who they believe had demonstrated too much flexibility in dealing with Hezb'allah and other pro-Syrian factions in Lebanon.  But Hariri is close personal friends with the crown prince and many in the royal family.  It's far more likely that Hariri is lying low as events play out across the Middle East.

Is Saudi Arabia ready to confront Iran and Hezb'allah?  If King Salman abdicates in favor of the crown prince, you might expect big changes on the way.  The Saudis see themselves at a crossroads domestically and in the region.  The crown prince has shown he is dead serious about reform.  It is he who is prosecuting the war against the Houthis and Iran in Yemen.  It is he who has made small moves to loosen the grip of the fundamentalist Wahhabi clergy who dominate in Saudi Arabia.  And it is he who is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into the 21st century.

Salman's biggest challenge is how to confront Iran without blowing up the Middle East.  He may have opted to confront Hezb'allah, Iran's major proxy in the region, rather than Iran directly.  Whether that will deter Iranian aggression in the region is unknown.

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