Saudi Arabia cutting ties with Lebanon, as Iran’s influence grows

Last week Saudi Arabia decided in a turn of events it would stop its funding of the Lebanese’s military. The Lebanese army operated on a mere budget of $1.3 billion in 2013, the same year that the Saudi monarchy pledged $4 billion in aid to help modernize, better equip and train the Lebanese army and its internal security forces. The latter aid commitment was welcomed by the Lebanese government, which desperately needed funding for its disorganized, fractured and ill-equipped military and security forces. Subsequently, Lebanon sought to spend $3 billion to buy French arms and allocate the remaining $1 billion for training of its security forces, to enable them to effectively tackle militant forces. Consequently, Saudi Arabia’s move to cut its aid to the Lebanese military is a big blow to the Lebanese government, who are already fractured and lacking support or aid. Moreover, Saudi Arabia and its allied Gulf states have decided to urge its citizens against travelling to Lebanon, and the UAE has gone as far as cutting diplomatic ties with Lebanon.

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Furthermore, the Saudi monarchy has abandoned its commitment to Lebanon and the Lebanese people, due to the “confiscation of the will” of Lebanon’s government, by Hezbollah a proxy group of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Consequently, the tipping point that caused the Saudi’s to cut their aid and backing of the Lebanese government, was the latter government’s failure to condemn the sacking of Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran in reaction to Saudi Arabia’s execution of Sheik Al-Nimr. Moreover, the grievances between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon run deep, as the Islamic Republic’s influence has been manifesting in Lebanon, through its proxy group Hezbollah, which has been gaining prominence throughout Lebanese society. Subsequently, the spill over of the Syrian war into Lebanon has brought numerous fighters from Al-Nusra, Daesh and other Islamist militant groups, into Lebanon. Accordingly, the disorganized and undisciplined Lebanese army isn’t able to dislodge Islamist militants; however Hezbollah is proving effective in combating the insurgency in Lebanon. Moreover, the battlefield victories of Hezbollah are being carried over in Syria, against Daesh and Al-Nusra, garnering support for the group back home in Lebanon. As Hezbollah’s commitment to combating Islamist militants strengthens, so does their image in Lebanese society, making them more of a legitimate actor in the interests of the Lebanese people, than the actual Lebanese government in Beirut.

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Additionally, the Saudi backed politicians in Lebanon have been losing power, as Hezbollah’s support grows, thus to stop Saudi aid from getting into the hands of the Islamic Republic’s proxy group Hezbollah, the Saudi’s have decided to withdraw their aid in full. Accordingly, the latter move by Saudi Arabia might stop aid from getting into the hands of Hezbollah, but it also weakens the actors in Lebanon who support Saudi interests, as their main donor has essential ceded Lebanon over to the Islamic Republic, by giving their proxy group Hezbollah unopposed control over Lebanese affairs. In addition, Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Tammam Salam, is desperate to reclaim Saudi aid, and asked Saudi Arabia to reconsider, saying Lebanon was “keen on keeping the relations brotherly and friendly”. Therefore, Saudi Arabia’s decisions to cut $4 billion in aid and have its Gulf allies sever diplomatic ties with Lebanon have further defined the sides of the Saudi-Iranian proxy war, as Lebanon is falling deeper into the Islamic Republic’s sphere of influence.