Iran’s foreign minister accused President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner of being responsible for the surprise resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister over the weekend, a move that further fueled the regional rivalry between Tehran and Riyadh, and may have resulted in a ballistic missile being fired – and intercepted – near the Saudi capital, Riyadh. As reported on Saturday, Saad Hariri unexpectedly announced his resignation while visiting Riyadh, where he accused Saudi nemesis Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah of having a “grip” on Lebanon. He also said he feared for his life.
In response, the Iranian foreign minister said the US and Saudi Arabia were responsible for Hariri’s resignation, claiming on twitter that the move was meant to sow tension in Lebanon and the Middle East, the The Times of Israel first reported.
“Visits by Kushner & Lebanese PM led to [Saad] Hariri’s bizarre resignation while abroad,” Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. “Of course, Iran is accused of interference.”
Addressing Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the Yemeni civil war, Zarif accused the kingdom of bombing Yemen “to smithereens, killing 1000’s of innocents including babies.” He also said Saudi Arabia “spreads cholera and famine” in its southern neighbor. The Iranian foreign minister also accused Saudi Arabia of “regional bullying” and destabilizing the Middle East, while trying to pin the blame on Iran. “KSA is engaged in wars of aggression, regional bullying, destabilizing behavior & risky provocations. It blames Iran for the consequences,” he said.
Zarif did not say how Kushner allegedly helped orchestrate Hariri’s decision to step down.
Kushner visited Saudi Arabia in October as part of a four-day trip to the region that also included stops in Israel, Jordan and Egypt, Politico reported last week. On Sunday, the Washington Post added some more detail:
MBS is emboldened by strong support from President Trump and his inner circle, who see him as a kindred disrupter of the status quo — at once a wealthy tycoon and a populist insurgent. It was probably no accident that last month, Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, made a personal visit to Riyadh. The two princes are said to have stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights, swapping stories and planning strategy.
Separately, the now former Lebanese prime minister Hariri traveled to the kingdom twice last week, announcing his resignation on the latter trip. Shortly after, Hassan Nasrallah, head of Iran-sponsored Hezbollah, echoed Zarif’s accusations, and said the resignation was “imposed” by Saudi Arabia.
Hariri’s resignation has added fuel to an already simmering regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. On Monday, the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen threatened retaliation against Iran over a unsuccessful missile attack on Riyadh carried out by Iran-backed rebels.
Separately, Zarif blamed US President Trump’s visit to the kingdom in May for leading to regional crises. “Visits to the belligerent #KSA have proved hazardous to regional health. Trump visit led to Bahrain repression followed by Qatar debacle,” Zarif also tweeted. Riyadh is a top backer of Sunni-ruled Bahrain, whose Shiite minority has received support from Tehran. Along with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, Saudi Arabia cut ties with Qatar in June, in part due to its Gulf neighbor’s ties with Iran.
For its part, the White House has provided little detail on Kushner’s Saudi meeting:
“The Senior Advisor to the President, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy, and the Special Representative for International Negotiations recently returned from Saudi Arabia,” the White House official said in a statement to POLITICO. “The Senior Advisor has also been in frequent contact with officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.”
“While these regional talks will play an important role, the President reaffirms that peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only be negotiated directly between the two parties and that the United States will continue working closely with the parties to make progress toward that goal.”
Considering that Kushner’s original charge as a Trump advisor was to restore peace to the Middle East, the fact that the region now finds itself on the verge of war is somewhat ironic, if expected.