Did Saudi Arabia force Lebanon's PM to quit?

The aftermath of the stunning resignation of Lebanon's Prime Minister has sparked speculation he was forced to quit by Saudi Arabia in order to wreck his ties with Iran. 

Saad Hariri declared his surprise resignation on Saturday from Riyadh which fuelled beliefs he was coerced into standing down against his will.

Stunned Lebanese are convinced Saudi Arabia, Hariri's longtime ally, forced out to effectively wreck the prime minister's delicate compromise government with Saudi nemesis - and Iran ally - the Hezbollah militant group.

His resignation has thrust Lebanon back onto the front line of the Middle East's most biting rivalry, pitting a mostly Sunni bloc led by Saudi Arabia and including the UAE against Shiite Iran and its allies. 

Saad Hariri declared his surprise resignation on Saturday from Riyadh which fuelled beliefs he was coerced into standing down against his will. Here he is pictured yesterday with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Saad Hariri declared his surprise resignation on Saturday from Riyadh which fuelled beliefs he was coerced into standing down against his will. Here he is pictured yesterday with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Hariri made the surprise announcement from the Saudi capital in a pre-recorded message on a Saudi-owned TV station. 

Last week, Saudi Minister for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan predicted on Lebanon's MTV station that 'astonishing developments' were coming for Lebanon.

After Hariri's resignation, rumours spread in Lebanon that he was under house arrest in Saudi Arabia - especially after news broke over the weekend of arrests in the kingdom of dozens of Saudi princes, ministers and influential businessmen in a sweep purportedly over corruption.

Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, on Sunday accused Saudi Arabia of drafting Hariri's resignation letter and forcing him to read it on Saudi TV. 

He even asked whether Hariri was being held against his will.

The daily Al-Akhbar, a harsh critic of Saudi Arabia's policies, ran a full-page photo of Hariri on its front page with the words: 'The hostage.'

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud shakes hands with former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri during their meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, yesterday

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud shakes hands with former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri during their meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, yesterday

Speculation continued to swirl despite the official Saudi Press Agency carrying photos Monday showing Hariri meeting with Saudi King Salman. 

Hariri tweeted that he was 'honored to visit' the king in his office - and some of his supporters tweeted back, telling him to take a selfie raising his left hand as a signal that he's OK.

Hariri, a dual Saudi-Lebanese citizen, has been facing financial difficulties recently as his business in Saudi Arabia suffers. Earlier this year he closed his family's Oger construction firm that had made billions of dollars since his late father founded it in the 1970s.

Some experts on Lebanese politics are convinced Riyadh was behind the resignation.

Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut, said Hariri made 'many concessions' to his political rivals in order to become prime minister and would not have given up the position had it not been for Saudi pressure.

Joseph Bahout, a visiting scholar in Carnegie's Middle East Program, warned just last month that Saudi Arabia was seeking ways to compensate for the loss of Syria as a place where it could defy and bleed Iran.

'A renewed desire to reverse their regional fortunes could lead them to try regaining a foothold in Lebanon,' he wrote.

Saudi Arabia has denied any meddling. 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh, on October 24, 2017

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh, on October 24, 2017

The resignation throws Lebanon into potential turmoil, forcing the small nation to become a new front in the regional fight for supremacy between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

And this at a time when Iran and its allies are seen to have won the proxy war against Saudi-backed Sunni fighters in Syria.

Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been intensifying its confrontation with Shiite powerhouse Iran. 

The two camps support rival sides in countries across the region, worsening conflicts in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere.

Lebanon has been on the verge of blowing up into full scale violence, and only compromise by Lebanese parties has stopped it doing so in a country still haunted by memories from its own 1975-1990 civil war.

Shiite Hezbollah dominates Lebanon, but it has sought not to provoke the Sunni community, which in turn has avoided crossing the guerrilla force.

The fear among some Lebanese now is that Saudi Arabia will upset that balance, trying to compensate for its losses in proxy wars elsewhere.

In Syria, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed fighters allied with President Bashar Assad's forces have recaptured large areas and are working to secure a much-prized land corridor stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. 

By contrast, Saudi Arabia has been stuck in a fruitless war in Yemen against Iranian-backed Shiite rebels, and a Saudi bid to isolate Qatar has failed to achieve its goals.

Saudi fingerprints were seen all over Hariri's resignation on Saturday.

Unexpectedly, Hariri appeared on Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV in a recorded video from an undisclosed location, haltingly delivering a statement in which he accused Iran of meddling in Arab affairs and the Iran-backed Hezbollah of holding Lebanon hostage.

'Iran's arms in the region will be cut off,' he said, adding that he felt compelled to resign and that his life was endangered.

The resignation came exactly a year after Hariri formed a coalition government that included Hezbollah, shortly after Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian and Hezbollah ally, was elected president. 

That arrangement was the product of a rare understanding between Saudi Arabia and Iran for calm in Lebanon, ending a two-year period during which the presidency was vacant.

Saudi officials have vowed to crush Hezbollah and recently have been inciting Lebanese to rise against the Shiite militant group, asserting they should openly say whether they are with or against it. Saudi Arabia, which considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization, says the group should not be part of a future Lebanese government.

For its part, the Hezbollah leader has been one of the kingdom's harshest critics and it is not uncommon for Hezbollah supporters to chant 'Death to Al Saud' in their rallies - a reference to the Saudi royal family.

At the very least, Hariri's resignation could mean

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