A televised remark by Lebanon’s Cabinet minister about the war in Yemen has taken the country’s crisis with Saudi Arabia to new depths. During a mock parliament streamed online, George Kordahi called the war in Yemen “absurd” and said the Iran-backed Houthi rebels have the right to defend themselves.
The Saudi-led coalition which has been fighting the Houthis in the northern parts of Yemen, blasted his remarks as “offensive” and biased toward the Houthis. Tensions between the two countries which dragged on for years over the role of the Iranian-backed militant Hezbollah group in Lebanon, Kordahi’s comments have added fuel to the fire.
While several Arab countries, angered by Kordahi’s comments, have begun to isolate Lebanon, recent developments threaten to split the coalition government.
Lebanon stares at an economic meltdown, as Saudi Arabia banned all Lebanese imports and promised to stop all aid. Saudi officials insist it is pointless to aid or deal with the government in Beirut which is openly favoring Iran.
Saudi Arabia has long been a close ally of politicians in Lebanon’s Sunni Muslim community, which chooses the prime minister. But the Shiite Hezbollah with its powerful armed force became Iran’s stalwart ally in Lebanon, something the Saudi’s failed to stop.
The kingdom lost its tools of influence in Lebabon after the assassination of its most powerful ally, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in 2005. In 2017, Prime Minister Saad Hariri supported by Hezbollah revoked his resignation but lost Saudi backing as the relations went downhill.
Most recently, Riyadh refused to back Mikati as prime minister because of his coalition with Hezbollah and closeness to Iran. Most commentators say they believe Kordahi’s comments were a pretext for the Saudis to vent their frustration at Iran’s influence in Lebanon.
Any further escalation could undermine jobs of more than 350,000 Lebanese in Gulf Arab states who send home millions in remittances.