As expected, Saudi Arabia has cast itself as the victim of external Shia plotting after its internal weekend of chaos which included a missile attack from Yemen, the deaths of two princes and other high officials within a mere 24 hours, and an aggressive crackdown against dissent in the royal family which saw close to a dozen princes placed under house arrest. And as Al Jazeera noted, in this Saudi version of 'Game of Thrones', the 32-year-old Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) shows that he is willing to throw the entire region into jeopardy to wear the royal gown.
While Saudi Arabia has long blamed Iran for sowing unrest in the region, this evening's declaration by Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan that Lebanon has "declared war" against the kingdom is truly an historic first. But perhaps the biggest problem is that international media is currently uncritically spreading the statement, whereas what such a bizarre claim actually warrants is laughter. Thankfully, Nassim Nicholas Taleb sums it up nicely with a basic geography lesson: "Either the media is stupid, or Saudi rulers are stupid, or both. Lebanon did not formally declare war and there is no common border."
Still image taken from a video distributed by Yemen’s pro-Houthi Al Masirah television station, which purports to show the ballistic missile previously launched at Saudi Arabia.
With that in mind, here is the statement currently making headlines as reported by Reuters:
Saudi Arabia said on Monday that Lebanon had declared war against it because of attacks against the Kingdom by the Lebanese Shi‘ite group Hezbollah.
Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan told Al-Arabiya TV that Saad al-Hariri, who announced his resignation as Lebanon’s prime minister on Saturday, had been told that acts of “aggression” by Hezbollah “were considered acts of a declaration of war against Saudi Arabia by Lebanon and by the Lebanese Party of the Devil”.
Though clearly absurd (that Lebanon has declared war on KSA), the statement is driven by legitimate and deep-rooted fear, for not only has Hezbollah transformed itself into a Middle East powerhouse whose influence has grown vastly in the midst of the Syrian war, but it has transitioned into a quasi-state which has gained the respect of Lebanese and Arabs across the region. As we've noted many times before, it is fear of Hezbollah and its increasingly broad acceptance and legitimacy within Lebanese state institutions that also drives heightened Israeli rhetoric and bellicosity of late, which has once again "surprisingly" found itself on the same side as Saudi Arabia.
No!— NassimNicholasTaleb (@nntaleb) November 6, 2017
And at a moment that Israel has begun massive war games, and as MBS continues his purge toward total consolidation of power over the kingdom, both unlikely bedfellows continue their war of words against Hezbollah. It's no secret that common cause in Syria of late has led the historic bitter enemies down a pragmatic path of unspoken cooperation as both seem to have placed the break up of the so-called "Shia crescent" as their primary policy goal in the region. But that's perhaps why few pundits seemed overly shocked when Israeli media reported in early September that bin Salman may have made a secret visit to Israel, in spite of the fact that the kingdom does not recognize the Jewish state, and the two sides do not have diplomatic relations.
Will the current chaotic trajectory of things and unholy alliance between the Saudis and Israelis place Lebanon in the cross hairs of yet another Israeli-Hezbollah war? While we've recently addressed this question, this new and erratic Saudi declaration certainly puts the region a big step closer to such a war becoming a reality.
Though this question of the looming specter of an Israeli-Lebanese War (which would surely involve the Saudis aiding Israel politically inside Lebanon) has been addressed many times over of late, the real question, which isn't often analyzed, is the true military capabilities of Hezbollah. What has both Israel and the Saudis worried is the fact that the Syrian war has possibly strengthened Hezbollah, not weakened it.
In a follow up article we will disect Hezbollah's military capabilities, and its role in Lebanese society.