Lebanese sources now say former PM Hariri being 'forcibly detained' in Saudi Arabia

Lebanese sources have told longtime Washington Post Middle East correspondent David Ignatius that former Prime Minister Saad Hariri is being forcibly detained by Saudi Arabia and may have been forced to resign.

The significance of this blatant interference by Saudi Arabia in Lebanese internal politics is connected to the desire of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or "MBS," as he is known, to confront Iran and its terrorist proxy army, Hezb'allah.  MBS apparently thought Hariri was insufficiently tough with Hezb'allah, which is in firm control of the government of Lebanon. 

Rumors of the virtual kidnapping of Hariri, who resigned as prime minister last Saturday while in Saudi Arabia, have rocked the Arab world; Lebanese officials worry that MBS, as the 32-year-old crown prince is known, wants to force Lebanon into his confrontation with Iran. Some Lebanese analysts complain that the Saudis treat the Hariri family, who have been bankrolled by Riyadh for decades, almost as a wholly owned subsidiary.

According to the well-informed Lebanese sources, the tale began on Monday, Oct. 30, when Hariri traveled to Saudi Arabia for a personal meeting with MBS. With the crown prince was Thamer al-Sabhan, his key adviser on relations with other Arab states.

The meeting seemed to go well, the Lebanese sources said, with talk of continued Saudi support for Lebanon, even though Hezbollah dominated the Hariri-led government.

Hariri returned to Lebanon on Nov. 1 and met with the Lebanese council of ministers to brief them on his conversations in Riyadh. Sources said he told the group that the Saudis would back plans for an international conference in Paris on the Lebanese economy, a Rome meeting to support the Lebanese army and a joint Saudi-Lebanese council to encourage investment. Hariri told his cabinet, including Hezbollah representatives, that Lebanon wouldn't be a Saudi target, even though it was widely expected that MBS would be taking a tougher stance on Iran. Those reassurances proved wrong.

Indeed, Hariri badly miscalculated, relying too much on his personal friendship with MBS and failing to comprehend that the crown prince was about to change the rules of the game.

Hariri returned to Saudi Arabia on the third and was greeted by a decided change in atmosphere:

What allegedly happened next is the scary part of the story. At about 8 a.m. Saturday, unusually early for the kingdom, Hariri was summoned to meet MBS. The trappings of protocol were gone; Hariri traveled in two cars with only his personal security. He was out of sight for several hours.

Hariri next appeared publicly on television, at about 2 p.m., reading a statement saying that he was resigning as prime minister because of Iranian threats on his life and Tehran's export of "devastation and chaos." Such belligerent language about Iran was uncharacteristic for Hariri, and none of his regular speechwriters were consulted about the speech. 

Lebanon has become a sacrificial pawn in the chess game that MBS is now engaged in with Iran playing out across the Middle East.  There are interested observers in Egypt and Turkey, but Lebanon is the key.  The crown prince is looking to confront Iran by taking Hezb'allah down a peg or two in Lebanon.  There are reports that the Saudis would actually prefer Hariri's brother, Bahaa:

What do the Saudis want next? The Lebanese sources believe Hariri's harder-line older brother Bahaa may be Riyadh's candidate for prime minister. Other Hariri relatives were summoned to Riyadh last week but refused to go; it's said that Bahaa was already there. The sources also say that Bahaa sent Safi Kalo, a close adviser, to meet secretly 10 days ago with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt to discuss future strategy for Lebanon, but Jumblatt is said to have left the meeting, refusing to discuss the subject. 

The meeting with Jumblatt was significant.  Walid Jumblatt is the consummate survivor and has become an expert at manipulating Lebanese politics to the advantage of his small but fierce sect of Druze warriors.  That Jumblatt walked out speaks volumes about the dangerous nature of whatever plan Bahaa is hatching.  The old Druze warlord didn't want any part of it.

What might be scaring Jumblatt off is a Sunni-Shia confrontation in Lebanon that could lead to a civil war.  Any pushback against Hezb'allah in Lebanon over the past decade has been met with armed resistance by the terrorists.  Sunnis have their own militias, as do the Christians, who are split between pro- and anti-Syrian fighters.  A Lebanese civil war might serve Saudi interests in that it would keep Hezb'allah busy in Lebanon, perhaps even forcing the terrorists to withdraw some of their fighters from Syria. 

But the last civil war lasted nearly twenty years and destroyed Lebanon.  To the Saudi way of seeing things, this may be a price that has to be paid to contain Iran's ambitions in the region.

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