Baku, Azerbaijan, Nov. 15
By Azer Ahmadbayli – Trend:
Scenario to practically curb Iran’s influence in the Middle East seems ready to start off. There are just few missing but important details, for instance, support for the policy by the entire Arab community that can be gained at an urgent meeting of Arab League members in Cairo next week at the request of Saudi Arabia.
The focal point to be discussed - Iran’s intervention in the region, an official League source told Egypt’s MENA agency.
The first stage of the scenario is to inflict irreparable damage to Iran’s political and military ally Hezbollah, whose activities upset not only a part of Lebanese politicians and society but the organization’s former leaders.
In its time Hezbollah enjoyed respect among the Lebanese and even more in some Arab states for its being a “resistance [to Israel] party.” The organization’s involvement into Syrian war ran counter to the Lebanese government’s policy.
Its participation in the war that was authorized by Iran, raised a sectarian division among Muslims, the former Hezbollah leader Subhi al-Tufayli said back in 2013.
“Hezbollah’s project as a resistance party that works to unify the Islamic world, has fallen. It is no longer that party that defends the Umma [Islamic nation]; instead it plagues the Umma,” he said.
“I hope that Lebanon will be the strongest free independent country, with no authority over it except for its great people, governed by law and protected by one army and one weapon.”
These words of the resigned PM Saad al-Hariri reproduce in the best way the common goal that Saudi Arabia and its allies wish to achieve: to eliminate Iran’s influence by removing Hezbollah as “the state in the state” together with its military forces being beyond the command of Lebanese Armed Forces, from the political map of Lebanon.
Three constituent parts form the whole policy: political, economic and military.
Political component has already been implemented by resignation of Hariri and creating vacuum of power in the state management.
Economically, Lebanon has been, for the most part, tied with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, which have sufficient economic leverage to affect political environment in the country.
The Gulf States play a significant role in Lebanese economy in terms of foreign investment and financial aid. Tens of investment projects in the country are sponsored by Riyadh. As is noted in the US Congressional Research Service (CRS) recent report, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states instituted a travel warning to Lebanon and urged their citizens to leave the country, impacting Lebanon’s real estate and tourism sectors, which depend on spending by wealthy Gulf visitors.
Also, the country faces a number of economic challenges, including high unemployment and the fourth-highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the world. The public debt reached 148% of GDP in 2016, the report says.
A serious hit for Lebanese economy would be the expulsion of 300,000 of its workers from Saudi Arabia which annually send home $4.7 billion of remittances.
If other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) join the Kingdom, the figures will make accordingly half a million of Lebanese citizens and nearly $7.5 billion remittances a year, historian and expert on the Middle East Dmitry Dobrov believes. He made the remarks with regards to the last year’s political clash between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, but tools to pressure Lebanon remain the same.
Furthermore, he pointed out, the Gulf States are the main market for Lebanese-produced farming products (up to 75 percent). Refusal to import will be a heavy blow to the Lebanese agricultural industry. These unprecedented measures may ruin the Lebanese economy.
What would the Lebanese do in this case – welcome Hezbollah or demand its disarmament?
The third component is a military one and here Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman’s comments that “confrontation can erupt at any moment” become topical: “all of our effort is to prevent the next war, but in the ‘new’ Middle East the assessments that were familiar in the past, such as low likelihood [of war], are simply irrelevant assessments.”
“The reality is fragile; it can happen from one moment to another, from today to tomorrow,” Times of Israel reported quoting the minister. He also expressed regret that the Lebanese army has become an integral part of the Hezbollah apparatus under its command.
The Israeli army is “making plans and training” for “a very violent war” against Hezbollah in south Lebanon, an Israeli TV report said in early September without specifying when this war might break out.
The IDF report said Hezbollah has an estimated 100,000 rockets and that its 5,000 long-range missiles, located in Beirut and other areas deep inside Lebanon, are capable of carrying large warheads with precision guidance systems, covering all of Israel.
Another question is how long Israel will tolerate the existence of such quantities of killing metal, directed to its cities?
The pace of developments can explode Lebanon especially since the powder keg in the face of over 1 million Syrian refugees, left without health care and job, has been at hand.
Much will depend on whether Saudi Arabia could gain unconditional support of the League members at their forthcoming meeting in Cairo.