Two weeks on, Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s surprise resignation is still sending shockwaves far beyond his native Lebanon.
Mr Hariri said he intended to create a shock to highlight Hezbollah’s increasing control over Lebanon’s foreign policy and Iranian interference in Beirut’s domestic affairs. The Shia group — backed by Iranian leadership — moved quickly to deflect the negative attention, attempting to focus on the admittedly unusual circumstances of the resignation.
In hindsight, Mr Hariri’s departure is no surprise. He re-entered office in December 2016 having secured the election of Lebanese president Michel Aoun. The two men enjoyed a good personal relationship despite Mr Aoun being a decade-long ally of Hezbollah.
Mr Hariri was willing to make the compromise of a cabinet dominated by Hezbollah allies to end Lebanon’s two-year presidential vacuum; it resulted in political stagnation and delegitimized the republic to Hezbollah’s advantage.
However, a year later, it was Mr Hariri alone who had made compromises — concessions that now appeared more like capitulations. Not only did this harm Lebanon, it eroded his support among his Sunni base and threatened to cause irreparable harm to his political alliances.
However, it appears the final straw came after Mr Aoun and his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, refused to respond to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani boasting of Iran’s control over Lebanon.
Mr Aoun, a former Lebanese Army General, had placed his alliance with Hezbollah above his duties to the Lebanese republic and Mr Hariri likely realised the depth of his mistake.
Within a week, Mr Hariri was in Saudi Arabia for consultations. Five days after that, back in Beirut, he met Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s foreign policy advisor, who boasted of Iran’s guardianship over Lebanon’s stability and lumped the country into the Iranian-dominated “Resistance Axis.”
The normally soft-spoken Mr Hariri then abruptly returned to Riyadh and resigned in a sharply-worded speech saying he was under threat of assassination in Lebanon. Implicitly referencing Mr Aoun’s silence, he said he could no longer abide by a situation where Iran controlled Lebanon’s critical “power junctures,” and possessed the “final and deciding word,” in Beirut through its proxy Hezbollah.
Hezbollah found itself in the negative spotlight, accused by a prime minister whose performance and compromises even it lauded of harming Lebanon in service of Iranian interests.
In two relatively conciliatory speeches, Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah denied Mr Hariri was under threat of assassination, blamed Riyadh for his resignation and its content, and accused the Kingdom of holding him hostage. Mr Nasrallah also claimed to know the Saudis were goading Israel to attack Lebanon, and were orchestrating a coup against Mr Hariri within his own Future Party.
He has promised to return to Lebanon by the end of the week. In the meantime, little can be said about his next moves or motives beyond taking his words at face value. The rest remains speculative, distracting from the most important part of Mr Hariri’s resignation: his warning against the danger Iran and Hezbollah pose to Lebanon’s sovereignty.
David Daoud is a research analyst at United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI)