Crisis between Lebanon and the Gulf
Lebanon is experiencing a crisis in its relations with Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab supporters, whose trade and financial aid it desperately needs. Criticism by a Lebanese Cabinet minister over Saudi military involvement in Yemen is at the heart of a diplomatic dispute that is playing into a regional competition for supremacy between Saudi Arabia and Iran-backed Hezbollah.
Saudi Arabia expelled the Lebanese ambassador, recalled its envoy to Beirut and banned imports from Lebanon after comments were broadcast by Lebanon’s information minister, George Kordahi. Just before Kordahi became a Cabinet member in September, he defended Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who receive training from Hezbollah. He said Yemen was subjected to what he described as foreign aggression – an apparent reference to Saudi Arabia.
Gulf allies have responded by recalling their ambassadors from Lebanon and expelling Beirut’s envoys. The Arab League has expressed concern over the rapid deterioration of relations.
The Arab League said it was concerned about a rapid deterioration of Lebanese-Gulf relations after critical comments from a Lebanese minister about the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen were followed by the kingdom banning all imports from Lebanon and giving the Lebanese ambassador 48 hours to leave.
Saudi Arabia also banned its citizens from travelling to Lebanon and recalled its ambassador.
Ties between Beirut and Riyadh were already strained, but they soured further on Tuesday after footage began circulating online of Information Minister George Kordahi making critical remarks about the Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
He said the televised interview was recorded more than a month before he was appointed minister.
Kordahi said the Iran-aligned Houthis are “defending themselves … against an external aggression”.
Kuwaiti media reported on Tuesday that local authorities issued a list of about 100 Lebanese who will not be allowed to renew their visas because they are suspected of having links to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. The report came days after Kuwait announced it would introduce stricter requirements for visas to Lebanese citizens.
The diplomatic crisis has further paralysed the Lebanese government, while Prime Minister Najib Mikati tries to defuse tension. A mediation attempt this month by an Arab League delegation in Beirut has yielded no results.
Turkey wants to mediate
Turkey is saddened by a crisis between Lebanon and Gulf states, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a visit to Beirut on Tuesday, calling for a resolution to the dispute through dialogue and diplomacy.
Turkey has said it is ready to offer whatever support it can to help mend relations between Lebanon and Gulf Arab nations embroiled in an unprecedented diplomatic rift.
“We have expressed our sadness over the recent crisis between Lebanon and the Gulf. We received information concerning the latest developments toward its resolution.
“And if there is anything that can be done for the issue to be resolved as soon as possible we are ready to carry it out,” he said during a presser with his Lebanese counterpart Abdallah Bou Habib.
Mevlut Cavusoglu added he discussed with Bou Habib ways to improve relations in many fields, especially in the tourism, energy, and agriculture sectors.
Cavusoglu urged support for Lebanon’s government to ensure stability and for general elections scheduled for next spring to take place on time.
Cavusoglu arrived in Lebanon late Monday from Iran. He also met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
He noted that Turkey is the first choice of the Lebanese people in terms of tourism, and the Turkish people’s interest and love for Lebanon are “clearly evident.”
On the Syrian crisis, he said Turkey and Lebanon are the most affected countries. He said they agreed to cooperate on the return of Syrians to their countries.
What does Turkey gain from this?
Ankara seeks to benefit from the Arab withdrawal from the Lebanese political field, especially after the diplomatic and economic measures taken by Saudi Arabia.Turkey thinks it can posture as the patron of the Sunnis, in the face of Iran, the key sponsor of Iran’s Shia groups, led by Hezbollah.
Lebanese political experts say that the vacuum created by the Arabs’ absence from the multi-sectarian country, especially after the recent escalation with Gulf countries, will not be exploited by Iran with its near total control of the Shia community and a large part of the Maronites.
Lebanese political analysts said that the visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to Beirut, and his emphasis on his country’s readiness to offer support to Lebanon reflect clear intent to play a new role that takes advantage of the near-complete withdrawal of Saudi Arabia from Lebanon and its suspension of financial, investment and tourism support to the cash-strapped country, which its seeks as being under the yoke of Hezbollah and Iran.
The analysts do not think Turkey is interested in competing with Iran, which Cavusoglu had visited right before coming to Lebanon. Its main goal instead would be to fill the void left by the Saudis’ absence. But it is doubtful that Ankara would be able to provide support of the same kind that Riyadh used to provide.
Cavusoglu said, during a joint press conference with his Lebanese counterpart Abdullah Bouhabib, in Beirut, that Turkey and Lebanon share geography and destiny, as well as deep-rooted historical, cultural and human relations.
He stressed that Turkey is committed to Lebanon’s sovereignty, security, stability and prosperity, pointing to the support and solidarity provided by Ankara to Lebanon after the port of Beirut and Akkar blasts.
“We have expressed our sadness over the recent crisis between Lebanon and the Gulf. We received information concerning the latest developments towards its resolution. And if there is anything that can be done for the issue to be resolved as soon as possible we are ready to carry it out,” Cavusoglu told reporters after meeting his Lebanese counterpart Abdallah Bouhabib.
“Everyone should provide support to the Lebanese government in order to find solutions to the crises facing the country and to be able to hold general elections as soon as possible,” he added.
“The Lebanese people are waiting for an urgent solution to their problems, and they should not pay the price for regional bargaining,” he stated, in an implicit criticism of Saudi Arabia’s position after Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi’s statements labeling Riyadh’s military role in Yemen an “aggression”.