Case of Missing Lebanese Prime Minister Stirs Middle East Tensions

Case of Missing Lebanese Prime Minister Stirs Middle East Tensions
Sat Nov 11, 2017 09:52:18

When the Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri made a sudden trip abroad last week, it was taken at first to be a routine visit with his political patron, Saudi Arabia. But the next day, he unexpectedly announced his resignation by video from Riyadh, the Saudi capital. He has yet to return to Lebanon.

Newyorktimes--  On Friday, Hezbollah movement announced that the Saudis were holding him against his will, while the Saudis have said they were protecting him from an unspecified assassination plot.

The Hariri case has become just one in a profusion of bewildering events — from the Saudi Arabia’s arrest of princes and wealthy businessmen last weekend to ordering its citizens out of Lebanon on Thursday — that are escalating tensions in the Middle East and fueling anxiety about whether the region is on the verge of military conflict.

The American secretary of state Rex W. Tillerson warned Friday “against any party, within or outside Lebanon, using Lebanon as a venue for proxy conflicts or in any manner contributing to instability in that country,” a message apparently aimed at Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia.

Even before the events of the past week, analysts and officials in the region had been increasingly anxious about what they see as a volatile combination: an impulsive, youthful Saudi leader escalating threats to roll back growing Iranian influence, an equally impulsive Trump administration signaling broad agreement with Saudi policies, and increasingly pointed warnings from Israel that it may eventually fight another war with Hezbollah.

Now analysts and diplomats are scrambling to figure out what the latest developments mean, whether they are connected and whether, as some analysts fear, they are part of a buildup to a regional war.

Mr. Hariri, until he announced his resignation on Saturday, had shown no signs of planning to do so.

Before the world had a chance to absorb this news, the ambitious and aggressive Saudi Arabian crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the arrest of hundreds of Saudis — including 11 princes, government ministers and some of the kingdom’s most prominent businessmen — in what was either a crackdown on corruption, as Saudi officials put it, or a purge, as outside analysts have suggested.

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