During Wednesday's independence day celebrations in Lebanon, Prime Minister Saad Hariri was bizarrely photographed in what appeared to be in a warm and enthusiastic handshake with Iran's ambassador to Lebanon, Mohammad Fathali, while greeting dignitaries less than 24 hours after his plane touched down in Beirut following his bizarre two week detention in Saudi Arabia.
The photograph is receiving a lot of attention and circulation on Arab social media as ironically during his initial televised resignation speech from Riyadh he cited Iranian meddling and rising influence, even going so far as to suggest he could be assassinated in a nefarious Iranian plot. Yet now he appears surprisingly overjoyed standing in front of the Iranian ambassador.
But surely, based on the below photograph, the Saudi script is not unfolding exactly as planned. Not only did Hariri announce earlier on Wednesday that he will remain Lebanon's prime minister, but he looks absolutely relieved to be back, and nothing close to being a man who actually fears possible assassination (as he previously declared in Saudi Arabia, likely under coercion).
Hariri addressed thousands of supporters during an independence day gathering and pledged to stay in Lebanon, while also declaring "Lebanon first".
As we reported earlier, his initial shocking resignation, which President Michel Aoun had refused to formally accept, came amidst Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman's (MBS) aggressive crackdown within the royal family and against high officials, which resulted in the deaths of at least two princes, and the arrests of at least a dozen others.
In televised comments soon after arrival in Beirut, Hariri said that he “presented my resignation to President Aoun today and he urged me to wait” for more dialogue. “I showed responsiveness to this hope.” Hariri also denied reports that Riyadh forced him to step down. He says the claims that Saudi Arabia was keeping him against his will are merely “rumors.”
Meanwhile, in the midst of MBS' purge, new revelations emerged and were confirmed of an official Saudi-Israeli intelligence sharing relationship targeting Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah.
Only days ago, Western and Arab media repeated Saudi regime fabrications that there was a serious threat to Sa`d Hariri's life in Beirut. Here he is in Beirut--today. pic.twitter.com/nTXVIutHu3— asad abukhalil (@asadabukhalil) November 22, 2017
Though Hariri tried to calm Lebanese fears during an awkward and likely coerced televised interview from Riyadh, saying, "Resignation could be withdrawn if Lebanon sticks to its policy of disassociation [from Hezbollah/Iran/Syria]. I was at my home [in Saudi] and not The Ritz [in reference to the detained Saudi princes]" - he didn't immediately return to Lebanon, instead traveling to France last Saturday to meet with President Macron.
Some analysts dubbed Hariri's strange travels an Odysseus style exile and wandering as he left France for Egypt to meet with Sisi, after which he arrived in Cyprus to meet with that nation's president, before finally returning to Lebanon.
Ya @ABarnardNYT, if #Hariri is the returning Odysseus, does that mean he successfully navigated the treacherous straits between the Scylla of #Iran and the Charybdis of #Saudi_Arabia? Just askin’. After a Mysterious Odyssey... https://t.co/aeyQ3m7Xvg— Hisham Melhem (@hisham_melhem) November 22, 2017
Yet since Hariri's over two week long odyssey, regional powers have threatened war resulting in both the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah being placed on "high alert" with Syria also promising to present a united front with Hezbollah should Israel escalate.