On November 4, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned, blaming Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah for destabilizing the region. The Arab world would "cut off the hands that wickedly extend to it [Iran]," he warned. Hariri, leader of the Future Movement Party, is the leader of Lebanon’s main Sunni Muslim political bloc and a close ally of Saudi Arabia. It was Hariri’s second visit to the kingdom in less than a week. He announced his decision from Riyadh on the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya satellite television station. The surprise move is likely related to Saudi Arabia’s increasingly aggressive stance towards Iran.
Hariri claimed that outside powers, alluding to Iran, have stoked sectarian tensions and created a state-within-a-state, Hezbollah. Following Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Iran sent some 1,500 Revolutionary Guards to the Bekaa Valley to help create, arm and fund a shadowy organization that eventually became Hezbollah, a militia and Lebanon’s foremost Shiite political party.
Hariri accused Hezbollah of gaining power through its accumulation of arms. Lebanon must have “only one state, one army, and one set of arms,” he said. Hariri also claimed that there was a plot on his life. He said the current political climate resembled that of 2005, when his father and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated. Four Hezbollah members were indicted in 2011 by an international tribunal for the murder.
The office of President Michel Aoun said that he would wait for Hariri to return to Lebanon to discuss his resignation before taking action. But Hariri’s resignation has ended a delicate compromise brokered in 2016. Aoun, a Christian ally of Hezbollah, was elected president in October 2016 after more than two years of political deadlock. Lebanon’s confessional political system divides power between a Shiite speaker of parliament, a Sunni prime minister and a Maronite Christian president. Hariri has been prime minister since December 2016 and previously held the position between 2009 and 2011. He is a dual Saudi-Lebanese citizen whose father made billions of dollars in the Saudi construction business.
Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia of forcing Hariri to resign. Iran also accused Saudi Arabia of meddling. But Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir called that charge nonsense. Hezbollah pushed Hariri to resign “by hijacking the political system” and “threatening political leaders,” he countered. Thamer al Sabhan, the Saudi minister for Gulf affairs, escalated the situation on November 7 by accusing Hezbollah of involvement in every “terrorist act” that threatened the kingdom. Lebanon’s government would be “dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia,” he warned. On November 9, the kingdom told its citizens to leave Lebanon immediately.
Lebanon was already facing serious threats to its stability, including the influx of more than one million Syrian refugees since the conflict began in 2011. The country has struggled to provide basic services to its citizens, including trash collection. Tensions stemming from the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) also continue to haunt the tiny country. The following are excerpted remarks by Lebanese and regional leaders on the resignation.
*UPDATE: Hariri returned to Lebanon on November 22 after visiting Abu Dhabi, France, Egypt, and Cyprus. He announced that he was putting his resignation on hold and that he planned to stay in Lebanon.
Saad al Hariri
“We are living through times similar to those before the assassination of [ex-Prime Minister] Rafiq al Hariri. I am aware of what is being plotted to target my life. Abiding to the principles I have learned from Rafiq al Hariri and following the principles of the great al Arz revolution, and because I wouldn’t accept letting down the Lebanese people, therefore, I resign from my post in the Lebanese cabinet.
“In all honesty, and without any equivocation with Iran, which only brings destruction, desolation and disorder wherever it goes, interfering in internal affairs of Arab states such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, and Yemen. In the past decades, Hezbollah was sadly able to create a de facto situation by power of its weaponry, which they claim is for resistance, but it is being used against our Syrian and Yemeni brothers and even the Lebanese people.”
—Nov. 4, 2017, on Al Arabiya TV
Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah
“The shape of the resignation proves that Hariri was forced to do so and that the resignation was a Saudi decision.”
“Up till now, nobody knows what really happened. We, the Lebanese, know each side’s rhetoric, and the statement read by Hariri in the video represents the Saudi rhetoric and not that of Hariri.”
“We believe that the government had the ability to continue and to hold elections.”
“We in Hezbollah pause at the shape of the resignation and what holds within it of violation to the Lebanese sovereignty and harm to the PM’s dignity.”
“It was more appropriate if Prime Minister Hariri returned to Lebanon and offered his resignation to the President. However, by this way (resignation announcement from Riyadh) proves the Saudi interference in the Lebanese issues.”
“Saudi has been launching wars on other countries under pretext that they are interfering in Lebanese internal issues.”
“All sides in Lebanon did not understand the reasons of resignation.”
“We have to know the reasons behind the resignation in Saudi Arabia.”
— Nov. 6, 2017, on Al Manar TV
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed al Jubeir
Jubeir: With regards to the resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al Hariri, it was very clear that Hezbollah is undercutting him at every turn, that it’s doing Iran’s bidding, that the Lebanese political system became paralyzed, that the issue of a government that could act independently was a sham. It was Hezbollah calling the shots, and he basically said enough is enough, I’m not doing this. And we support him fully in that decision.
Question: The leader of the Lebanese group Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has said that Saudi Arabia forced the Lebanese prime minister to resign. Did you?
Jubeir: Nonsense. Hezbollah did by its actions. Hezbollah did by hijacking the political system in Lebanon. Hezbollah did by threatening political leaders. Hezbollah did through a series of assassinations that they committed over the years.
Question: Is he, Saad Hariri, free to leave Saudi Arabia?
Jubeir: Of course he is. He’s in Saudi Arabia. He’s a Lebanese-Saudi citizen. To this morning, he met with the custodian of the two holy mosques. Yes, he’s a Saudi citizen.
Question: The irony of Saad Hariri’s resignation here, in Riyadh, on Saudi-backed T.V., would not be lost on those who say that Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is meddling in other people’s affairs. Just as Saad Hariri accused Iran of doing the same in Lebanon, to which you say what?
Jubeir: I think if this follows the argument that you made in the previous question, which is that we forced him to resign, but we didn’t. And where he announces his resignation is his business. We supported Saad Hariri becoming prime minister. We supported his government as prime minister. We supported the policies he wanted to implement in Lebanon. But at every turn we found that Hezbollah put roadblocks in his way and that Hezbollah made it difficult for people to govern and that the political climate had descended and became so tense that it reminded him of what happened just before his father was assassinated in 2005. And he basically said enough is enough, I’m not going to do this.
—Nov. 7, 2017, in an interview with CNN
Saudi Arabian Arab Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer al Sabhan
“We will treat the government of Lebanon as warmongers against Saudi Arabia due to the aggression of Hezbollah.”
“We expect the Lebanese government to act to deter Hezbollah.”
“Lebanon is kidnapped by the militias of Hezbollah and behind it is Iran.”
—Nov. 7, 2017, in an interview with Al Arabiya
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
Visits to the belligerent #KSA have proved hazardous to regional health. Trump visit led to Bahrain repression followed by Qatar debacle.1/— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) November 6, 2017
Visits by Kushner & Lebanese PM led to Hariri's bizarre resignation while abroad. Of course, Iran is accused of interference. 2/— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) November 6, 2017
KSA is engaged in wars of aggression, regional bullying, destabilizing behavior & risky provocations. It blames Iran for the consequences.4/— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) November 6, 2017
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has always favored the maintenance of peace and stability in countries of the region, including Lebanon.”
“Without a doubt, today the great Lebanese people will be able to pass through this new sedition with tact and will not allow Lebanon to become a battlefield for foreign powers and an opportunity for the terrorists to re-emerge.”
"Undoubtedly, with your management, tactfulness and valuable experiences and vigilance of the Lebanese people and army, stability in that country will be successfully maintained.”
—Nov. 7, 2017, in a phone call with Lebanon’s president
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghassemi
“Mr. Hariri’s sudden resignation and announcing it in another country is regrettable and at the same time surprising; it shows Hariri is playing in a field prepared by those who wish ill for the region, and the winner of this game is both Arab countries and the Zionist regime [of Israel] whose survival is contingent upon tension in and among Muslim countries in the region.”
“The resigned Lebanese premier’s repetition of unfounded accusations levelled against Iran by the Zionists, Saudis and Americans bears witness to the fact that this resignation, too, is a new scenario to create new tension in Lebanon and in the region; but we believe that strong Lebanese people will easily pass through this phase, too.”
“Accordingly, top of Iran’s regional policies is to fight insecurity and instability as well as extremist and terrorist groups to ensure tranquility for all countries.”
“As the Lebanese president highlighted the good political relations between the two countries and rejected any accusations of Iran’s interference in Lebanon, the Islamic Republic of Iran, too, has always respected Lebanon’s independence and [the necessity of] maintaining stability and tranquility, and has expressed its readiness to cooperate with the Lebanese government in areas of mutual interest.”
—Nov. 4, 2017, in a statement
Ali Akbar Velayati, advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
“Mr. Hariri said that during the meeting he had with me, he called on [Iran] not to interfere in the internal affairs of Lebanon.”
— Nov. 14, 2017, speaking to reporters in Tehran, according to Tasnim
“In our talks, this issue was not raised and he [Hariri] asked to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia.”
“This is inculcation by Saudis and others who are not willing to see peace in Lebanon and also the strategic friendship between the two countries [Iran and Lebanon].”
“At the meeting, I told Hariri that he should tell the Saudis to stop humanitarian crimes in Yemen…and hold negotiations with the Yemenis because the Yemeni issue only has a political solution,”
— Nov. 14, 2017, reported by PressTV
"Hariri was keen on mediating between Saudi Arabia and Iran. I told him that we do not have any problems entering negotiations with Riyadh, but tell the Saudis you have been devastating Yemen in the past three years and are preventing food and medicine to reach the Yemeni people."
"I told Hariri to ask Saudis to stop the genocide in Yemen, enter into negotiations with Yemenis because the Yemen issue only should be settled through the political means not 'blind' bombardment."
"I told Hariri that Iran hails the unity of Lebanese domestic political parties. I said Lebanon is considered as the most secure Islamic country thanks to the Islamic resistance group and its wise people."
— Nov. 14, 2017, reported by IRNA
Hossein Sheikholeslam, advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
“Hariri's resignation was done with planning by [US President] Donald Trump and Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”
—Nov. 5, 2017, according to the BBC
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
The United States strongly supports the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Lebanon and of its political institutions. The United States urges all parties both within Lebanon and outside to respect the integrity and independence of Lebanon’s legitimate national institutions, including the Government of Lebanon and the Lebanese Armed Forces. In this regard, we respect Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri as a strong partner of the United States.
The United States supports the stability of Lebanon and is opposed to any actions that could threaten that stability. There is no legitimate place or role in Lebanon for any foreign forces, militias or armed elements other than the legitimate security forces of the Lebanese state – which must be recognized as the sole authority for security in Lebanon. The United States cautions against any party, within or outside Lebanon, using Lebanon as a venue for proxy conflicts or in any manner contributing to instability in that country.
—Nov. 10, 2017, in a statement