Lebanon’s Prime Minister Resigns Claiming Assassination Threat

On Saturday, November 4, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri suddenly resigned during a trip to Saudi Arabia. He claimed that there is a plan to assassinate him, and accused Iran and Hezbollah of causing discord in the region. During a televised announcement in Riyadh, on Saudi- state-owned news channel; Al Arabiya, he lashed out at Iran stating that “the evil that Iran spreads in the region will backfire on it…despite my efforts, Iran continues to abuse Lebanon.” Mr. Hariri also stated that Iran and Hezbollah had subjected Lebanon to “international condemnations and economic sanctions.” In fact, he likened the climate in Lebanon as one similar to that prior to his father’s assassination in 2005, and stated, “I have sensed what is being plotted covertly to target my life.”

Nevertheless, Iranian officials responded by denying any assassination plot or spreading terror. In addition, they emphasized the tensions which Mr. Hariri’s resignation may create within the region. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Qassemi, stated on the Ministry’s website that, “the resigning Lebanese prime minister’s repetition of the unrealistic and unfounded accusations of the Zionists, Saudis, and Americans against Iran is an indication that this resignation is a new scenario for creating tension in Lebanon and the region.” Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, further claimed, in a televised statement on Sunday, that the resignation had been imposed by Saudi Arabia and that it has not been Mr. Hariri’s decision to quit. Additionally, Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon’s Druze and Progressive Socialist Party, said that “Lebanon is too small and vulnerable to bear the economic and political burden that comes with this resignation” and called for continued dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Mr. Hariri’s sudden resignation has the potential to further destabilize Lebanon after its recent political deadlock. It brings Lebanon into the forefront of the continued regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The two countries’ long feud has been demonstrated by their support of opposing sides in political and military disputes in countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and Iraq. These escalations in tensions have led to Bahrain issuing a travel ban on all its citizens to Lebanon. With his departure after only 11 months in office, it ends the alliance within the government between Mr. Hariri, a Sunni Muslim who is aligned with Saudi Arabia, and President Michel Aoun, a supporter of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement allied with Iran.

Lebanon’s government is constituted by a power-sharing system which requires that the President must be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of the parliament a Shiite Muslim. Its politics have been recently tumultuous, with last year’s election of President Aoun ending two and a half years without a head of state. Also, in October this year, the parliament passed its first budget since 2005. Prior to his resignation, Mr. Hariri had met with Ali Akbar Velayati, the chief adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Beirut, before flying to Saudi Arabia on Friday.

The ramifications of Mr. Hariri’s political departure are still unclear, but there are concerns that there will be an inflammation of sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims within Lebanon. President Aoun’s office stated that he has been telephoned by Mr. Hariri informing him of the resignation, and was awaiting his return to discuss the circumstances. It is imperative that Lebanon’s political leaders adhere to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ statement that all sides must “focus their efforts on supporting the continuity of Lebanon’s State institutions, in adherence with the constitution, and safeguarding the country’s security and stability.”