The competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia over regional influence has been unfolding more and more since coming to rule of Salman bin Abdulaziz and his son Muhammad bin Salman in early 2015. Amid ongoing fierce rivalry, Riyadh is heavily working on putting strains on Tehran’s allies in a bid to curb Iran’s regional influence.
The New York Times in a report on December 24 reported that Saudi Arabia was planning to form an anti-Hezbollah militant group in the Palestinian refugee camps located in Lebanon. The American newspaper, further, revealed that during visit to Riyadh of President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman asked him to work hard to persuade the Lebanon-based Palestinians to join the pro-Saudi regional front and distance them from the pro-Tehran camp. The king in waiting warned Abbas that if he fail to do the job, he will resort to Muhammed Dahlan, a rival to Abbas over leadership of Fattah movement and the Palestinian Authority. The kingdom is embarking on the new anti-Tehran scenarios as it already received green light of the Trump administration to press against the Islamic Republic and its ally Hezbollah.
Over the course of past seven years, Saudi Arabia sustained heavy back-to-back defeats in its regional policies.
In Syria crisis, the kingdom was pushed to the sidelines in the ongoing peace efforts.
In Yemen war, the Arab country has turned into a quagmire for Saudi and allied forces.
In Bahrain crisis, the Saudi-backed Al Khalifa regime’s iron-fist response to protests has failed to silence people’s pro-democracy uprising.
In Qatar crisis the us-backed Saudi regime has failed to make Doha bow to its demands.
And the very latest Saudi plot in Lebanon, i.e. forcing Prime Minister Saad Hariri into resignation, has backfired on the oil-rich kingdom with many accusing the regime of intervening in sovereign countries domestic efforts.
Saudi Arabia not only failed in its regional designs but also received a lot of damages all blamed on its policies. In such conditions that Riyadh finds itself in a tight corner and holds the Iran-led Axis of Resistance accountable for this predicament, the Persian Gulf state strives to ignite new conflict in Lebanon and embroil Tehran and Hezbollah in a new crisis.
Goals behind new Saudi Arabian plan
Lebanon is of strategic significance to the regional actors, either those of the Resistance camp or the opposite side represented by the Arab-Western-Israeli front, mainly because of its neighborhood of the crisis-hit Syria and the occupied Palestinian territories. Lebanon’s weight can either harm the Resistance camp’s forces in Syria or strengthen them. Saudis seek to gain a strong toehold in Lebanon in order to:
Impair Hezbollah’s military, social, and political position in the country.
-Destroy Lebanon’s strategic and logistic potential which is now serving the anti-terror campaign of the Resistance camp in Syria.
Turn the regional balance of power to the Saudi advantage.
Obliterate or weaken the Iranian sway in Lebanon and the region.
Force-stop the Iranian role in the Palestinian case.
Sow feud between Hezbollah and such Palestinian groups as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Palestinian camps in Lebanon and recruitment potentials
Lebanon is home to 12 refugee camps that accommodate nearly 210,000 Palestinians, while Some 273,000 more are reportedly living out of the camps in the Lebanese cities. Roughly, all of the refugees in the camps are suffering from poverty, poor health services, and high unemployment rates. The camps are secured by Palestinian paramilitaries. When the conflict broke in Syria, 1,800 Palestinian families from Yarmouk, Zeynabya district, and Al-Hajar Al-Aswad camps relocated to neighboring Lebanon. According to unofficial figures, up to September 2012 some 7,000 Palestinian refugees moved to Lebanon and settled in Nahr al-Bared and Al-Badawi refugee camps in Tripoli, Al-Jalil in Beqqa, and others in Beirut, Sidon, and Tyre. Figures suggest that the Palestinian refugees, nearly half a million, account for 10 percent of the Lebanese population.
The Saudi regime since the late decades of the 20th century spent heavily on spreading the fundamentalist Wahhabi ideology across the Muslim world. Some movements or figures in the Muslim countries were attracted to this thought, or at least part of it ran through them. The Palestinians were no exception. Receiving Wahhabi impacts, they stood in the face of pro-liberation Palestinian groups such as Hamas and the Resistance camp. They were not considerably strong, however.
They might have found favor with Riyadh leaders again to serve a new plot. The Saudis might have likely set their many hopes on these limited elements. They can persuade some of them to work with Riyadh, though their effects might not be substantial. Another theory is that Saudi Arabia can rely on the Sunni part of the society to provide a social base for any new pro-Riyadh militia in Lebanon. This can find a place in the Saudi plan for Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia still holds sway over the March 14 Alliance and has the backing of regional and international allies such as the UAE and the US.
All of these elements can provide Riyadh with the capacity to struggle for the realization of its goals at the hands of an anti-Hezbollah militant group.
However, evidence shows that in this scenario, like many past scenarios on regional cases, the Saudis will fail as they are handicapped by serious obstacles in this path.
What are the challenges and hurdles Riyadh is facing?
The Saudi rulers are intending to create a movement similar to Hezbollah and put it in the face of the Lebanese movement. But they have obstacles ahead:
Saudi regime can by no means justify the creation of such a movement. Over three decades ago, Hezbollah formed to confront the Israeli violations against Lebanese territories. In fact, reason behind Hezbollah’s creation was fighting occupying Israeli regime. The Lebanese movement also declared readiness to help the Palestinians in their combat against Tel Aviv.
Hezbollah gained credibility at home by expressing its pro-liberation agenda and in practice accomplished its promises.
Hezbollah has a social bastion in southern Lebanon where is under risks of being the target of Israeli aggression for being a Shiite-populated region.
If Saudi Arabia intends to challenge Hezbollah by raising a militant group, the Lebanese movement will naturally hit back. Hezbollah will have the government and people’s certain backing in the face of Riyadh. After all, the Lebanese people and government know how reliable Hezbollah can be in deterring the Israeli hostilities and helping stabilize the country. This is a strong drive behind their pro-Hezbollah stance. Additionally, Beirut keeps a watchful eye on the destructive Saudi agenda and has already guarded against Riyadh’s potentially-risky plans. The government last year built a 4-meter-high wall in an attempt to better watch the movement of suspects.
European countries like France that hold friendly relations with Lebanon are against the cultivation of extremist Salafi groups that can bring instability to the nation. They will certainly raise their voice in opposition. Regional countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and Syria might also come against any Saudi plans for the radicalization of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon or the whole region. Iran which is the head of the Resistance camp will not allow Saudi Arabia to weaken Hezbollah, a key element of the Resistance orbit.
The Saudi campaign of recruitment will not succeed in setting up a Palestinian faction large in number of members, especially that it needs social base and persistence. Moreover, the ideology and motivation among the Palestinians for this intention are highly meager. All these lead to the conclusion that missing backgrounds and conditions beside remarkable obstacles make Saudi Arabia fight a losing battle.