The Iran-Saudi Powerplay: A War Of Words Or Rhetoric? – OpEd

Recent events in Saudi Arabia are sending shockwaves throughout the Middle East. It is locked into a collision course with Iran after a missile was fired against Riyadh. The Yemen based Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the attack. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has blamed Tehran for supplying the rockets to the Houthis, a charge that Iran denied, and in the midst of all of this, MBS has launched an anti-corruption campaign targeting the Kingdom’s business and political elite.

Many top officials within Saudi Arabia have been arrested, but some critics say that the Crown Prince is getting rid of adversaries to the throne. From the Saudi government’s point of view, around a hundred billion dollars was embezzled with bribes and money laundering, and over two hundred Emirs, businessmen, and ministers have been detained. Many of the names that have been detained are from the old guard. There is also a power shake up going on within the royal family, and this consolidates the new Crown Prince’s power whether it is for anti-corruption or other reasons.

Hours before the arrests were made, the Saudis intercepted a ballistic missile over Riyadh that was launched from Yemen. The Saudis accused Iran for being behind the launch, but the Houthis don’t have the capabilities for owning, using, or developing a ballistic missile. Throughout the past couple of years, the Houthis have been sending missiles in Saudi Arabia, but these missiles have very little capacity, and limited capabilities compared to the weapons the Saudi-led coalition has used in the Yemen conflict. Riyadh has said that Iran was behind the missile launch, but Iran denies these allegations. As a result, Saudi Arabia continues to increase the airstrikes in Yemen, and has put a $330-million-dollar bounty on Houthi leader Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi, as well as killing other Houthi leaders within the past few days, and this has led to escalation on all fronts between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Another major development was the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Riyadh, and the Saudis have advised its citizens not to travel to Lebanon, and for those who are there, to leave as soon as possible. The Saudis are working on all fronts, and on all of these fronts whether it is on Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Qatar, Yemen, and Bahrain, it is accusing Iran of being behind all of this which sounds strange given the fact that the Saudis export a form of Islam that is puritanical compared to something you would not see in modern society, and this ideology is called Wahhabism.

For example, Iran supports Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Saudis do not want to see Hezbollah participate in Lebanese politics. Hezbollah also came out with a statement that accused Riyadh of detaining Prime Minister Hariri against his will and it also accused Saudi Arabia of declaring an act of war by taking Hariri to Riyadh to resign as Prime Minister of Lebanon. So basically, there is a grasp for power between Iran and Saudi Arabia being played inside countries like Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and now Lebanon.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri went to Saudi Arabia and resigned from his post on Al Arabiya, but he hasn’t returned home. Lebanon is currently in a bizarre state of affairs. Last Saturday when Hariri was summoned to Riyadh and announced his resignation on Saudi state TV, the Lebanese people faced a very weird situation where the official position from Beirut has been for the return of Hariri to Lebanon. All of the Lebanese political parties including Hezbollah have held a consistent position on this.

In addition, the Lebanese government wants Hariri back to submit his full resignation in Lebanon so then the public, President Aoun, the speaker, and the political parties can hear directly from him about what is taking place and why there has been little communication between the Prime Minister and the Lebanese people. So far, Lebanese Security Forces have found no evidence of a threat to Hariri’s life, and the ridiculous accusations being made by the Saudis could have reflected Hariri’s father’s assassination as well.

The reality on the ground is that the Saudis have funded DAESH ever since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, as we know from the Wikileaks documents, Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and the Defense Intelligence Agency document of 2012 that the Saudis supported the extremists in order to overthrow the Assad Government. However, Hezbollah was one of the most effective forces in the fight against DAESH, and we are close to seeing the end of a caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

If there was a driver for instability in the Middle East, it should be made very clear to many Middle East analysts that it is clearly the Saudis. What is being done to the Lebanese Prime Minister is quite unprecedented given the fact that he resigned in Saudi Arabia on Saudi state TV without the Lebanese people even aware of what was going on, and Hariri holds dual citizenship as a Saudi and a Lebanese just like his father Rafic Hariri.

The only country with whom Lebanon can geographically have a war with is Israel, and there have always been a multitude of tensions between the two sides for decades. Nobody can disagree that there is a competition between Riyadh and Tehran for dominance in the Middle East, but it is by no means a footnote to have a Prime Minister of a country resign in a different country whose whereabouts are unknown. This has resulted as a front against Lebanese sovereignty, but the big picture cannot be complete if we don’t say that the interference is not just from Saudi Arabia, but from Iran and other regional players in the Middle East as well.

The Lebanese public is very concerned about escalation, but there is also a national unity within the government and the Lebanese people that because Lebanon is so small and has had a long track record of foreign interference, there needs to be a national unity where escalation is unnecessary and there is no appetite for yet another civil war. The political parties in Lebanon do not want to turn against each other and the only way forward is national unity.

Lebanon could become the next victim of the Iranian-Saudi powerplay in the Middle East. We have already witnessed the destruction in Yemen, Iraq, as well as Syria that the divisions in the region are far more complex and broad than we make it out to be. Even though a direct war between Iran and Saudi Arabia is unlikely, there is a psychological war of words between the two powerhouses.

The Saudi rhetoric of declaring war against Lebanon is not helpful to diffusing tensions, and now that Hariri has resigned, Saudi Arabia has declared a war on Hezbollah, but a war against Hezbollah is also a war against the Lebanese people because Hezbollah has had a long history of combatting foreign aggression, they have also been an effective fighting force in fighting against DAESH. Hezbollah has also cooperated with the Lebanese Army to protect the Lebanese people from foreign aggression.

At this point, Hariri is still Prime Minister because President Aoun has not accepted the resignation, and the Future Movement has said repeatedly to order Hariri back to Lebanon. At this point, the Lebanese people and the government are united, nobody has declared a war on Saudi Arabia, and there is a psychological war of words that could lead to further escalation between Lebanon, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.


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Vincent Lofaso

Vincent Lofaso

Vincent Lofaso is a recent graduate of Manhattan College with a Political Science major with a focus in international affairs. Most of his research is related on geopolitical and security issues.

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