TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) - Veteran Middle East watchers immediately suspected that Saudi Arabian pressure was at play when Hariri suddenly resigned on Nov. 4 during a visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Times’ report confirms those suspicions and adds new details about what occurred.
The officials and associates of Hariri who spoke to the Times portray a cringe-inducing saga in which Saudi Arabia, under the direction of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, subjected Hariri to demeaning pressure, handed him a pre-written resignation speech that blamed Iran for his departure and effectively held him captive to ensure that he would commit to the resignation.
The plan was intended to diminish Iranian influence in the region, according to the Times.
But after facing backlash in Lebanon and from Western governments, Saudi Arabia consented to let Hariri return to Lebanon.
He withdrew his resignation earlier this month. The incident unraveled into a fiasco that cost Saudi Arabia dearly in terms of diplomatic fallout. At best, it generated modest policy wins.
Several Middle East policy experts reacted with shock at the revelations in the Times’ report.
Ilan Goldenberg, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security who held top Middle East posts in former President Barack Obama’s State Department, tweeted that the Saudi Arabian scheme was an “incredible diplomatic clusterfuck.”
Shibley Telhami, a Middle East politics professor at the University of Maryland, wrote on Twitter that the article “seems to confirm many of the worst rumors not only about Saudi treatment of Hariri, but also of others.”
“If the details are accurate, expect more trouble ahead,” he added.
Hariri ― like his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed in 2005 ― has strong ties to Saudi Arabia. He holds dual Saudi Arabian citizenship, was born in Saudi Arabia and owes his immense wealth to business holdings there.
Saudi Arabia therefore views him as a crucial ally in Lebanon.
Hariri didn’t hear from Mohammed bin Salman upon his arrival, but was summoned early the next morning for a meeting with the prince. Instead, Saudi officials “manhandled” Hariri, confiscated his cell phone and deprived him of all but one of his bodyguards, people familiar with the matter told the Times. Lebanese officials described what happened next as a “black box.”
Hariri delivered his pre-written resignation speech on Saudi television in the afternoon.
Shortly thereafter, Mohammed bin Salman summoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a meeting in which he reportedly tried to shape Palestinian politics.
Lebanese officials worried that Mohammed bin Salman was scheming to cultivate violent resistance to Hezbollah from within Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
A coordinated diplomatic blitz from France, the United States, Egypt and other nations secured Hariri’s release and return to Lebanon.
TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) - Mohammed bin Salman also masterminded a regional blockade against neighboring Qatar over its support for the Muslim Brotherhood and relative amicability toward Iran. Many analysts say they believe the attempted crackdown has only nudged Qatar closer to Iran.
In addition, the crown prince conducted mass arrests of wealthy Saudi businessmen and other prominent officials in November with the supposed goal of rooting out corruption.
But outside observers maintain that Mohammed bin Salman’s real aim was to consolidate power and silence critics, noting that the arrestees included political rivals within the Saudi royal family.