If the United States climbs into bed with the Israelis and
Saudis and commits to take down Iran it will wind up having to do the hard
fighting in a war that could be unwinnable in any conventional sense.
been much discussion surrounding the travel of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad
al-Hariri to Saudi Arabia on November 4th. Al-Hariri, who is a
Saudi-Lebanese dual national with considerable business and other personal
interests in Saudi Arabia apparently complied with a summons to meet with Crown
Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been shaking up his government as part
of what appears to be an
attempt to concentrate more power in his own hands being marketed as a campaign
against corruption. Al-Hariri was by some accounts met at the Riyadh airport
unceremoniously and placed under something like house arrest. He shortly
thereafter read a statement – or was it a script? – claiming that he had fled
Lebanon in fear that he might be assassinated. He resigned his office and
proceeded to denounce Iranian influence over his country, saying that Tehran
was seeking to gain control through its dominance of Hezbollah and the
acquiescence of the president, a Maronite Christian, Michel Aoun.
allowed to leave Saudi Arabia on Saturday, flying to Paris to meet with French
President Emmanuel Macron, but his children and business interests are still in
Saudi Arabia, suggesting that his actions will be dictated by Riyadh.
Al-Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, was in Beirut on Wednesday for Lebanon’s
Independence Day, where he was convinced to hold off on formally submitting his
resignation to the government so more discussions could take place. This
temporarily avoids a government crisis for the country, where a coalition
carefully designed to balance the country’s three major religious
constituencies only came together last year.
fall from grace came about because the Saudis were unhappy regarding his
reluctance to directly confront Iranian influence, best demonstrated by
Hezbollah’s unilateral participation in the civil war in neighboring Syria. The
Saudis, who forced through a resolution at the
Arab League last weekend declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organization, would
like to have its political wing out of the government completely, an
impossibility given its military and political power. Riyadh is also believed
to be working with the Israelis to increase pressure and create a casus belli over
Lebanon to justify direct action to isolate Hezbollah. And the ultimate target
is Iran with the two countries working together to roll up Iranian influence in
the region starting with Lebanon, which will see increasing political and
economic pressure from Riyadh while the Israelis will be standing by to
intervene militarily, if necessary.
are credible reports that
Israel and Saudi Arabia, though not bound by any formal agreement, have come to
an understanding over how to proceed which will include the abandonment of a
number of long established policies. The Palestinians will, in particular, be
thrown under the bus yet again and have been warned by Riyadh to cut all ties
with Iran. Saudi Arabia will apparently no longer push the Israelis to
accommodate Palestinian aspirations for full statehood, which will mean that
refugees will have no right to return under any formula for a settlement and
Jerusalem will remain wholly in Israeli hands.
It is a major
risk for the al-Saud Royal House to appear to be abandoning the highly popular
Palestinian cause, so what’s in it for Saudi Arabia? Israeli and U.S. support
for the idea that Iran is enemy number one and must be dealt with using the
military option trumps anything going on in Ramallah. Leaked Israeli and
Saudi diplomatic cables have
made clear that Tel Aviv will endorse Riyadh’s genocidal assault and blockade
on Yemen and any other comparable actions while the Saudis will in return
regard the Palestinian issue as a distraction. They will use their economic
leverage to compel the Palestinians to agree to an admittedly unacceptable
peace plan brokered by the U.S. and approved of by Israel. The U.S. is
reportedly fully on board at this point and it is believed that son-in-law
Jared Kushner has been the chief negotiator for the White House.
So what could
go wrong? Probably everything as most of the current initiatives being
discussed are unattainable. Israel has overwhelming air and sea superiority in
the region but it does not have the boots on the ground to control the land it
flies over. Nor do the Saudis and Riyadh’s vision of some kind of broad Sunni
front taking shape against Iran and the Shi’as is almost certainly little more
than wishful thinking. Hezbollah has been preparing for war and it has considerable
experience in fighting the Israelis, having driven them out of Lebanon in 2000.
It has thousands of missiles of variable quality concealed in bomb-proofed
sites and there are reports that there are plans to unleash them in enormous
waves if Israel were to strike. Israeli interceptor defenses are formidable,
including Iron Dome, but they would be unable to cope with the volume and the
devastation could be enormous on both sides.
And there is
no sign that the Lebanese, who have placed their army on standby, are eager to
avoid a war by cutting a preemptive deal with the Saudis that would involve
Israel, so the idea of starting a hot conflict that could somehow be managed
which would destroy Hezbollah will likely prove to be a bridge too far for
Riyadh and Tel Aviv. And then there are the Palestinians, who just might not be
willing, or able, to play ball no matter how much Saudi money is being offered.
All of which
could easily leave the United States out on a limb. If it climbs into bed with
the Israelis and Saudis and commits to take down Iran it will wind up having to
do the hard fighting in a war that could be unwinnable in any conventional
sense. Russia will almost certainly be watching closely but will wisely stay
out of any conflict as long as its own interests in Syria and Iran are not
threatened. If “regime change” in Lebanon to weaken Iran plays out badly, which
it will, it means that all parties involved will suffer from another decade of
instability in the Middle East.