INFOGRAPHIC – Saudi Arabia will let go of its ally Saad Hariri, expected in Paris, where he will work on a roadmap before his return to Lebanon.
Special envoy to Riyadh
The crisis has been contained, but the roots have yet to be dealt with. Saad Hariri, the resigning Lebanese Prime Minister, confined to Riyadh for ten days, accepted the invitation that Emmanuel Macron sent him coming to France. It was Jean-Yves Le Drian, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, visiting Riyadh to finalize the affair with the Saudi authorities, who announced it Thursday morning. "He can leave whenever he wants," assured his Saudi counterpart, Adel al-Joubeir shortly after.
Saad Hariri is expected to arrive in Paris on Saturday to stay for a few days with his family before returning to Beirut, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said. The person concerned was less precise: “I will tell you later”, replied Hariri from his residence where he had just received Jean-Yves Le Drian.
For nearly two weeks, his fate had been the subject of conflicting information. President Aoun accused Arabia of "holdin Riyadh, where he would have been guarded, still according to Michel Aoun, by private mercenaries. This is denied by Riyadh, from where the head of the Lebanese government announced his resounding resignation on November 4, a year after having managed to form a government with Hezbollah in a country where Saudis and Iranians clash by intermediaries.
Finally, the French determination paid off. Emmanuel Macron had two telephone conversations on Tuesday and Wednesday with the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, Saudi's new strongman. "The president and MBS also exchanged by SMS," says an informed source. For his part, Jean-Yves Le Drian had a one-on-one meeting Wednesday evening with MBS, while François Gouyette, the French ambassador to Riyadh, saw Saad Hariri twice. "He could be better," slips another of his visitors.
What will Hariri do now that he is free? “It is he who decides, underlines a French diplomat. Either he maintains his resignation, which is likely, or he believes that he can correct the abuses he has denounced. These relate to the stranglehold of Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsor on the management of Lebanon. Saad Hariri's next few days in Arabia and then in Paris will be used to establish "a roadmap" in order to consolidate a way out of the crisis.
Saudis and French will remain at the maneuver. By inviting Hariri to Paris, Macron offered the crown prince a way out. But Riyadh is sticking to a very tough stance against Hezbollah and Iran. To prevent the growing tension in Lebanon from resulting in slippages, Paris intends to send messages to the Iranians, the Saudis, but also to the various Lebanese officials. “If we want to counter Hezbollah and its military apparatus, a French diplomatic source points out, we must strengthen the Lebanese state institutions, that is to say the army, the internal security forces, close to the camp Hariri, and more broadly the political groups who want to rebalance the situation. But Paris does not want the destabilization of Lebanon, so no frontal attack or Saudi actions that could aggravate the situation, such as the expulsion of Lebanese expatriates living in the Gulf.
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France intends to bring its Saudi ally back to a “less negative view”. But Riyadh believes it has been "cheated" in Lebanon. "When Michel Aoun was accepted by everyone as President of the Republic a year ago, the Saudis told us OK, but we don't believe it," confides a French diplomat. Today, they find that Hariri has been more of a cover than a bulwark against Hezbollah's expansionism." Over the months, the resentment grew. Close to power, the journalist Adwan al-Ahmari makes a scathing description of it. "Saad Hariri was a puppet in the hands of Hezbollah", which forced him, for example, to accept the sending of a new ambassador to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the enemy of Arabia.
But beyond Lebanon and Syria, the kingdom has other grievances. "About eight months ago, adds Adwan al-Ahmari, the Saudis summoned Hariri to show him evidence of Hezbollah's destabilizing actions in Yemen, Bahrain and Kuwait". The message was clear: “We help you in Lebanon, so take action at home against Hezbollah!” And then on November 4, a missile was fired again, intercepted above Riyadh airport, from Yemeni territory, “an act of war”, according to Arabia. It was the straw that broke the camel's back, believe several French and Saudi sources. Riyadh and Paris are convinced that it is an Iranian missile, operated by the Houthis, thanks to the cooperation of Hezbollah experts.
If Arabia gave the impression of mistreating its ally Saad Hariri, it is also because the crown prince has reproaches to address to him. “Hariri has Saudi nationality, so he was treated like the corrupt Saudi princes,” notes a businessman in Riyadh, alluding to the arrest of many members of the royal family, as well as wealthy businessmen, that same November 4.
The anti-corruption committee accuses the Lebanese prime minister of having fattened up copiously in Arabia. Saad Hariri was linked in business with Prince Abdel Aziz Ben Fahd, son of former King Fahd, and tycoon Bakr Bin Laden, both arrested at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh. "If the Saudis let Saad go to Paris, it's because he signed an acknowledgment of debt to Arabia, as the princes will have to do if they want to regain their freedom", believes the man business. To finance his reforms, MBS wants to bring billions from corruption back into the state coffers. But on this part of the crisis, Paris is much quieter. Rafic Hariri, father of Saad and prime minister assassinated in Beirut in 2005, was very close to former President of the Republic Jacques Chirac. In short, a crisis with multiple ramifications.
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Source: © How France is sponsoring a way out of the crisis in the Hariri affair