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Saturday, August 15, 2020

Saudi’s generosity to Lebanon repaid with insults

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© APimages

Now I really do despair of Lebanon’s golden era ever returning; at least not during my lifetime. In the early 1970s, my frequent visits to a place where people were friendly and always welcoming were always special, which is one of the reasons I was driven to invest in Beirut, so beautiful and so blessed. Sadly, whereas Gulf nationals appreciate everything Lebanon has to offer, a Lebanese minority is willing to sacrifice the country’s future on the altar of sectarianism and hatred.

Gulf States have always stood by Lebanon in good times and bad. Saudi Arabia, in particular has been a good friend to the Lebanese people; last year alone, Riyadh pledged to provide the Lebanese government with a US $3 billion grant to upgrade its military that was followed-up with a further US $1 billion in military aid to assist the army to fend off Islamic State fighters.

Lebanon has traditionally been the go-to holiday destination for Saudis and Gulf Arabs and by some estimates there are hundreds of thousands of Lebanese expatriates in Saudi, the UAE and Qatar alone, many of which send regular remittances to their families at home. So when the Lebanese economy is depressed - weighed down by the needs of 1.5 million Syrian refugees - and its tourism industry has taken a severe knock due to Lebanon’s unstable security environment, Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah decides this is the time to be as offensive as he possibly can to the Saudi leadership and its coalition partners.

Not only are Saudis upset over his vicious diatribe, rebroadcast on Lebanon’s State TV, so are their Gulf neighbours. I don’t want to repeat Nasrallah’s exact words. I’ll paraphrase. In essence, he behaved like the obedient Iranian puppet he is by announcing his hope that the Saudi-led Arab coalition battling Houthi militias in Yemen would be defeated which, he said, would impact the Kingdom’s internal stability and its ruling monarchy. He’s no savvy politician. If he thinks insulting Saudi Arabia will resurrect Hezbollah’s dwindling popularity, he’s mistaken.

Lebanon’s Minister of Information subsequently apologised to the Saudi ambassador for the broadcast and even politicians from the March 14th bloc have issued statements criticising Nasrallah – Lebanon’s actual leader – for over-stepping. But no amount of apologising can erase the hurt, and I would imagine that many Saudis will think twice about investing or vacationing there for the foreseeable future. Nowhere else in the world does state television provide a platform to militias to spew their propaganda, let alone those under the wing of foreign governments!

However, Nasrallah isn’t the only Lebanese going after the Kingdom’s jugular. There are frequent attacks on GCC states, especially targeting Saudi, by certain Lebanese politicians and so-called analysts on television and in newspapers. This trend is self-defeating and dismaying and if it continues, the consequences will backfire on the Lebanese people.

I quit being shocked at anything Hezbollah does years ago, especially since its triggering of a war with Israel in 2006 and its decision to join hands with the Assad regime, one of the most ruthless our planet has ever known. Those are brands of shame it can never shake-off. But I do admit feeling disappointment with prominent politicians allied to March 14th who have neglected to take strong measures to ensure respect and appreciation for Saudi Arabia and the other GCC member states, March 14th biggest allies and material backers.

How would they feel if Saudi channels had championed an Israeli victory in 2006? March 14th is duty-bound to hold accountable any politician or anyone else who trashes Lebanon’s closest regional friends. I’m sure they would love to hide behind the arguments that Hezbollah is too powerful to cross or Lebanon believes in the democratic principle of free speech.

Firstly, the country is just a sham democracy as long as Hezbollah’s hand rocks the cradle and those proponents of free speech merely use that argument to cover their own cowardice. In any case, anything that threatens Lebanon’s economic health or national security should trump the free expression of traitors with Persian loyalties.

March 14th has the resources to act but lacks the courage or the will; the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice and the media are all under its control – or that’s what its leaders would have us believe. It’s about time they stopped burying their heads and stood up for what is right. If their positions are nothing more than honorary to keep up a façade, then they should let us know, so that our heads of state don’t waste their time discussing with them.

Lebanese ministers and politicians must stop playing Hezbollah’s game. They were elected and funded to defend the people’s interests and those of the Lebanese Diaspora in the Gulf, which should include deterring agenda-led thugs to hurl insults at Saudi Arabia or any other GCC country. Instead, they stand and watch while those thugs throw boulders in the well that they drink from. If they’re not very careful, they’ll end up having to find jobs for returning Lebanese expatriates because if hostile sentiments keep coming our way, our leaders may be forced to conclude that Lebanese nationals doing business or working in their countries pose a risk to national security.

How long is this sad state of affairs going to continue? How long will it be until the Lebanese people - whether Muslim Christian, Druze or Armenian - refuse to allow their strings to be pulled by ayatollahs threatening not only their safety and livelihoods but their very Lebanese identity. I can only hope they’ll find their voices to speak up against this dark cloak stifling any chance of a new Lebanese dawn. And in the meantime, I’m watching intently for signs that they reject absolutely any insult to brotherly nations that have always sheltered them with open arms.

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