No, Lebanon And Saudi Arabia Have Not Officially Declared War

 In this photo provided by the Saudi Press Agency, Saudi King Salman, right, meets with outgoing Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Monday, Nov. 6, 2017. Hariri’s resignation in a televised statement from Saudi Arabia on Saturday stunned Lebanon and plunged the tiny nation into uncertainty. In his resignation, Hariri accused Shiite power Iran of meddling in Arab affairs and the Iran-backed Lebanese militant Hezbollah group of holding Lebanon hostage. (Saudi Press Agency, via AP)
In this photo provided by the Saudi Press Agency, Saudi King Salman, right, meets with outgoing Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Monday, Nov. 6, 2017. Hariri’s resignation in a televised statement from Saudi Arabia on Saturday stunned Lebanon and plunged the tiny nation into uncertainty. In his resignation, Hariri accused Shiite power Iran of meddling in Arab affairs and the Iran-backed Lebanese militant Hezbollah group of holding Lebanon hostage. (Saudi Press Agency, via AP)

Despite escalating tensions, a wave of political turnover on Saturday, and a tweet from The Jerusalem Post claiming Lebanon has declared war on Saudi Arabia, no official war declaration has been made—yet.

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Here’s the tweet:

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The tweet in question, posted this afternoon on The Jerusalem Post’s account, is a poor summarization of a quote from a Saudi Arabian minister, but it has been quickly quoted and retweeted across the web thousands of times, including a retweet from a White House correspondent for The New York Times with over 658,000 followers, a reporter for CNN’s mobile investigations team, and a former Congressional candidate with over 40,000 followers.

The content of the article linked in the tweet is as follows:

Arabia said on Monday that Lebanon had declared war against it because of attacks against the Kingdom by the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah.

Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan told Al-Arabiya TV that Saad al-Hariri, who announced his resignation as Lebanon’s prime minister on Saturday, had been told that acts of “aggression” by Hezbollah “were considered acts of a declaration of war against Saudi Arabia by Lebanon and by the Lebanese Party of the Devil.”

There has been no official declaration of war from either country, however, Saudi Arabia’s perspective on the situation may hold more weight following a fresh bout of political instability in both the Saudi Arabian and Lebanese governments this week.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri announced his resignation to his party and his country’s surprise on Saturday, while multiple Saudi princes and businessmen men have been removed from their posts or detained over the weekend.

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The moves by Saudi Arabia included the removal of National Guard minister Prince Miteb, who was the last independent hold over the three power ministries of defense, interior, and the National Guard, severely consolidating power within the government, according to Reuters. Additionally, a senior provincial prince suspiciously died in a helicopter crash amid the political restructuring, which has been spun by the ruling family to be focused on removing corruption. More from the BBC:

Prince Mansour bin Muqrin, the deputy governor of Asir province, was returning from an inspection tour when his aircraft came down near Abha late on Sunday, the interior ministry said.

It did not give a cause for the crash.

The incident came hours after a major purge of the kingdom’s political and business leadership.

An anti-corruption body led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 32, ordered the detentions of dozens of people, including 11 princes, four ministers and dozens of ex-ministers. Analysts see the unprecedented move as an attempt to cement the power of the heir to the throne.

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Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s resignation announcement was made while he was out of the country during a visit to Saudi Arabia, with al-Hariri citing fears of an assassination attempt against him, as well as regional instability caused by Iran and Hezbollah, as his reasoning. Lebanese President Michel Aoun will not decide on accepting al-Hariri’s resignation until he returns to Lebanon, according to Reuters.

Saudi Arabia and Iran-backed Hezbollah have been in competition for influence within the Lebanese government. The prime minister’s resignation is a threat to the region’s recent stability, in part due to Saudi-backed al-Hariri holding the Lebanese government with Hezbollah-backed President Aoun. Here’s more from CNN:

Hariri’s resignation spells the collapse of a 30-member government of national unity that saw Saudi-backed Hariri fill the post of prime minister, and Hezbollah-backed Michel Aoun occupy the presidency. That government, analysts say, was one of the byproducts of the Obama administration’s landmark Iran nuclear deal.

“With this arrangement, we saw some sort of appeasement where we saw mutual steps from the US and Iran in improving relations and lowering tensions in various areas,” said Riad Kahwaji, director of Institute for Near East and Gulf Military.

The period marked a brief time of stability, in which Lebanon seemed to have steered clear of regional fault-lines.

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It’s unclear whether the recent dramatic changes in government will further escalate tensions or lead to a real declaration of war, but the sudden instability in the region has created an extremely dangerous situation. This post may be updated with any developing information.

Reviews Editor, Jalopnik

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DISCUSSION

gearoiddubh
GearoidDubh

Jerusalem Post’s Twitter presence is strangely sub-par compared to most news services. They also seem to follow an awful lot of horrid trolls, which I assume is something automatic rather than by choice (they lean right but not that far right). Not surprised they messed up.

Saudi is setting the rhetorical stage for war. They haven’t literally declared war, and I suspect they won’t in the traditional sense. They’ll use proxies, including strangely enough in this case Israel, because both Israel and the KSA have a strong interest in harming Hezbollah. I’d watch out for Israeli actions designed to provoke Hezbollah. There’s been chatter in the far-right and militarist circles in Israel about “finishing off Hezbollah” for years now with another war treated as inevitable. If you think that way, why not push it on your timetable?

The risk here is that all of this blows up in unpredictable ways. Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), the prince consolidating power and arresting his potential enemies, is the architect of the utterly failed Saudi war in Yemen. That’s a policy failure on a massive scale, and the Saudis are not stuck in that quagmire and continuing the bad behavior that’s gotten them in trouble. That bodes really poorly for the complexity of the Lebanon/Hezbollah issue. Lebanon’s internal politics are more heated than Yemen’s, and the chance of miscalculation is larger. MbS has failed in an easier setting. That the Houthi fired a missile near Riyadh (which Saudi declared as tantamount to war by Iran) shows how little their air strikes have done other than kill civilians and push a humanitarian crisis.

Finally there’s a serious risk that, just like in Yemen and Syria, Saudi action will provide significant space for radical groups. In Lebanon they have a big Shi’ite population to target and they already have networks in the country. Both AQAP and Daesh have expanded in Yemen because of the Saudi war, some radical-aligned militias even got arms and material support from the UAE-Saudi coalition.

Trump’s dumb tweet supporting King Salman and MbS shows that he’s asleep at the wheel. We could be sleepwalking into war here. The US is going to be involved in this, somehow, no matter whether we should or not. The Saudis and Israelis will pull us in, and we’ve worked a great deal to try and at least get some quiet in Lebanon. All of that could go up in smoke just as our relationship with Turkey is fraying and we’ve seriously angered our Kurdish proxies in Iraq and Syria (that’s another big fight coming up the Trump administration isn’t prepared for).

Ugh.