Lebanon Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri announced that he was stepping down on Saturday, saying that he believes there is an assassination plot against him and that Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah are fomenting trouble in the Arab world.
Hariri, whose father Rafiq Hariri was murdered by a truck bomb in 2005, made the announcement from an undisclosed location in the Middle East. A UN commission originally established that high-level Syrian and pro-Syrian Lebanese officials were responsible for the elder Hariri’s assassination and fingered Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brother and brother-in-law specifically. The final report failed to mention any specific individuals.
Hariri was named prime minister after a protracted political struggle that ended up with Hezbollah and pro-Syrian elements in control of the government. The most prominent Sunni politician in Lebanon, Hariri is very close to the Saudi royal family, making Lebanon a battleground for the regional struggle between the Saudis and Iran, as Hezbollah is Iran’s proxy. The fate of the coalition government that Hariri led is unknown and there is no obvious replacement for Hariri. In Lebanon’s sectarian government, the office of prime minister is reserved for a Sunni.
“We are living in a climate similar to the atmosphere that prevailed before the assassination of martyr Rafik al-Hariri. I have sensed what is being plotted covertly to target my life,” Hariri said.
Reuters quotes a report from a Saudi satellite TV network: “The Saudi-owned pan-Arab television channel al-Arabiya al-Hadath reported that an assassination plot against Saad al-Hariri was foiled in Beirut days ago, citing an unnamed source. Lebanese officials could not immediately be reached for comment.”
The aging Druze warlord, Walid Jumblatt, has frequently played mediator between Sunni and Shiite factions in Lebanon. According to Reuters, he issued a statement saying, “We cannot afford to fight the Iranians from Lebanon.” He advocated compromise with Hezbollah in Lebanon “while waiting for regional circumstances to allow Saudi-Iranian dialogue,” according to Reuters.
Iran was very unhappy after having worked hard to gain control of Lebanon via Hezbollah. Typically, they blamed the U.S. and Saudis for engineering the crisis. A spokesman for Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said, “Hariri’s resignation was done with planning by Donald Trump, the president of America, and Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, to destabilize the situation in Lebanon and the region.” Prince Salman may have warned Hariri of the assassination plot and if Hariri is forced to flee the country, he will almost certainly end up in Saudi Arabia.
Tiny Lebanon is strategically important due to its sharing a border with Syria and Israel. But its politics have been pulled and pushed by outside interests, specifically Iran and Saudi Arabia. In the 12 years since Syria ended its occupation, its politics have been marred by high-profile murders of anti-Syrian politicians and news people.
Saad Hariri has shown courage over the years in standing up to Syria and Iran while working hard for a truly independent Lebanon. But the deadly forces arrayed against him would think nothing killing him if it served their interests. At this point, it evidently would.