Alex Rowell writes: Beginning with its surprise suspension of $4 billion in pledged aid to the Lebanese army and Internal Security Forces on February 19, Saudi Arabia has undertaken an extraordinary set of punitive measures against Lebanon and Lebanese nationals, including warning its own citizens against traveling to the country (a step later emulated by the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait); designating several Lebanese companies and individuals as “terrorists;” and firing at least 90 Lebanese expatriates from their jobs in the Kingdom.
Most recently, speculation has mounted that Saudi and other Gulf states could also withdraw their deposits in Lebanon’s central bank (said to amount to around $900 million out of Lebanon’s total foreign reserves of over $37 billion), while Saudi sources told NOW investment from the Kingdom in Lebanon had likely ceased already.
“I’m sure a Saudi businessman, even without receiving a telephone call from his government […] is very much reluctant to invest more in Lebanon right now,” said Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist and former advisor to then-ambassador Prince Turki al-Faisal.
Officially, the trigger for this sudden deterioration in Riyadh-Beirut ties was the refusal by Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil to sign a recent Arab League statement condemning Iran and Hezbollah in the wake of the January attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran. The anti-Hezbollah March 14 coalition subsequently blamed the loss of Saudi’s $4 billion donation on the Party of God, which it accused of forcing its ally Bassil’s hand. Hezbollah has substantially escalated its rhetoric in general against the Kingdom in recent weeks, with leader Hassan Nasrallah calling it a “takfiri and terrorist” state and mass-murdering agent of Western imperialism and Zionism in a January speech, drawing repeated chants of “Death to the Saud family!” from the audience. Responding to calls for an apology to Saudi Friday, Hezbollah’s deputy leader Naim Qassem said it was Saudi who ought to apologize to Lebanon: “Saudi Arabia is the one that attacked us, we did not attack it.” [Continue reading…]