Lebanon's Prime Minister Hariri puts resignation 'on hold'

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrived back in Lebanon two weeks after he announced his surprise resignation while in Saudi Arabia.  Within hours of landing at Beirut International Airport, Hariri shocked the country by announcing he had put his resignation "on hold" while talks with Hezb'allah and other political factions are underway.

Hariri withdrew his resignation – temporarily or not – at the request of Lebanon's Christian president, Michel Aoun.  According to Al Jazeera, there were intense behind-the-scenes discussions between the Hariri camp and other Lebanese leaders.

Al Jazeera's Zein Khodr, reporting from Beirut, said that Hariri's tone has shifted since he gave his resignation speech two weeks ago.

"He [Hariri] didn't even mention Hezbollah or Iran[.] ... He even said that he's looking forward to a partnership with all political parties in the country

"What is clear is that there has been intensive discussions behind closed doors," she said.

"The resignation was an attempt by Saudi Arabia to curb Hezbollah's influence[.] ... That attempt backfired[.] ... Hariri was conciliatory in his message."

What is going on?  Whatever influence Saudi Arabia was exercising over Hariri has weakened since he left the kingdom.  Before returning to Lebanon, Hariri had meetings with several leaders, including Macron of France and el-Sisi of Egypt.  France has a keen interest in what happens in Lebanon, since the tiny nation is a former French colony.  And as a Sunni regional power, Egypt is on the front lines of resisting the spread of Iran's influence.

Those "intense discussions" almost certainly included Hezb'allah.  Given that Hariri cited threats against his life by pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian factions in Lebanon as a primary reason for his resignation, it is possible that some sort of backroom deal with the terrorists was struck that gives certain assurances to Hariri regarding his personal safety.  For Hezb'allah, part of that deal could have included Hariri promising to back away from Saudi Arabia. 

Whatever is going on behind the scenes in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia appears to be a big loser.  Ten days ago, it looked as if war was coming between the Saudis and Hezb'allah.  Today, that prospect is less likely.  Lebanese Sunnis may view the Saudis as a benefactor, but they won't blow up their country to satisfy the crown prince's ambitions.

If Hariri stays on, it will represent another victory for Iran, who has won in Syria, is winning in Iraq, and is bleeding the Saudis in Yemen.  The mullahs are on a roll, and increasing their already considerable influence in Lebanon via their proxy, Hezb'allah, is just icing on the cake.