Bahrain expels Lebanese envoy
Saudi Arabia said Friday it was recalling its ambassador to Lebanon and giving Beirut’s envoy 48 hours to leave Riyadh, after “insulting” remarks made by a Lebanese minister on the Yemen war.
The regional heavyweight’s decision, accompanied by an imports halt, is a further blow for Lebanon, which is in the midst of an economic crisis that the World Bank has said is likely to rank among the planet’s worst since the mid-19th century.
Saudi Arabia ordered the “recall of the ambassador in Lebanon for consultations, and the departure of Lebanon’s ambassador to the kingdom within 48 hours”, over the “insulting” remarks made this week by Lebanon’s information minister, the foreign ministry said.
The wealthy Gulf kingdom also “decided to halt all Lebanese imports”, citing the “security of the kingdom and its people”, a statement added.
Riyadh deplored the deterioration of relations with Lebanon and said “further measures” will be taken against Beirut, without elaborating.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati reacted quickly, saying he “regretted” the Saudi move.
“We are deeply sorry for the kingdom’s decision and hope that it will reconsider. As for us, we will continue to work to solve what needs to be solved,” he said.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday had summoned Lebanon’s ambassadors over Information Minister George Kordahi’s criticism of the Riyadh-led military coalition fighting rebels in Yemen.
Later Friday, Bahrain — a tiny Gulf kingdom close to Riyadh — also expelled the Lebanese ambassador, giving the envoy 48 hours to leave.
Kordahi said in a television interview that the Iran-backed Huthi rebels were “defending themselves… against an external aggression”, adding that “homes, villages, funerals, and weddings were being bombed” by the coalition.
In the interview – filmed in August but aired on Monday – he also called the seven-year war in Yemen “futile” and said it was “time for it to end”.
Saudi Arabia has stepped back from its former ally Lebanon in recent years, angered by the influence of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, which is backed by its regional rival Iran.
On Tuesday, the Lebanese government said that Kordahi’s statements were “rejected and did not reflect the position of the government”, adding that the interview in question took place before Kordahi was appointed to the cabinet in September.
Kordahi, a well-known television presenter, told local reporters on Wednesday that the interview in question took place on August 5 and was his “personal opinion”.
“I did not wrong anyone. I did not attack anyone. Why should I apologise?” he said. “I started my position with love as a human who feels Arab suffering.”
Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 when the Huthis gained control of the capital Sanaa, prompting Saudi-led forces to intervene to prop up the government the following year.
Tens of thousands of people — most of them civilians — have died and millions have been displaced, in what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Rights groups have harshly criticised the coalition for civilian casualties in its aerial bombardment.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia announced it was suspending fruit and vegetable imports from Lebanon, saying shipments were being used for drug smuggling and accusing Beirut of inaction.
And in May, Lebanon’s foreign minister Charbel Wehbe stepped down and was swiftly replaced after comments he made irked Saudi Arabia.
The United Arab Emirates said Saturday it was withdrawing its diplomats from Lebanon, following a similar Saudi Arabia move over a Lebanese minister’s criticism of the Riyadh-led military intervention in Yemen.
The diplomatic row, which has also seen Saudi Arabia suspend imports from Lebanon and both Kuwait and Bahrain expel Beirut’s envoys to their capitals, is another blow to a country already in the grip of crippling political and economic crises.
Lebanon had been counting on financial assistance from the Gulf to rescue its economy.
“The UAE announced the withdrawal of its diplomats from Lebanon in solidarity with the sisterly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in light of the unacceptable approach of some Lebanese officials towards Saudi Arabia,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
It “also decided to prevent its citizens from travelling to Lebanon,” it added.
It came a day after the Saudi and Bahraini moves and hours after Kuwait asked Lebanon’s envoy to “leave in 48 hours” and recalled its ambassador from Beirut, according to state news agency KUNA.
The dispute was sparked by the broadcast this week of an interview in which Lebanon’s Information Minister George Kordahi criticised the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen.
In his remarks — recorded in August but aired on Monday — Kordahi called the seven-year war in the Arabian Peninsula country “futile” and said it was “time for it to end”.
Kordahi said Yemen’s Huthi rebels were “defending themselves… against an external aggression”, adding that “homes, villages, funerals and weddings were being bombed” by the Saudi-led coalition.
The Huthis are backed by Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran, which also wields significant influence in Lebanon, due to its strong backing of the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah.
Kordahi’s comments saw Saudi Arabia announce Friday that it was recalling its ambassador and it gave Beirut’s envoy 48 hours to leave Riyadh.
His words have also sparked calls for him to resign or be sacked.
“Enough of catastrophes. Sack this minister who will destroy our relations with the Arab Gulf before it is too late,” Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said on Twitter.
Kuwait’s foreign ministry said the expulsion and recall was based on the “failure” of the Lebanese government to “address the unacceptable and reprehensible statements against the sisterly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the rest” of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
The GCC is a six-member regional body that comprises Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar.
Kuwait’s decision was also based on the Lebanese government’s “failure… to deter the continuous and increasing smuggling operations of the scourge of drugs to Kuwait and the rest of the GCC,” the ministry added.
The comments on smuggling echo Riyadh’s line, which extended to Saudi Arabia on Friday imposing a suspension on all imports from Lebanon.
In its statement on Friday, Saudi Arabia also referred to Lebanon’s failure to “stop the export of the scourge of drugs… to the Kingdom, especially in light of the terrorist Hezbollah’s control of all ports.”
Saudi Arabia announced in June that it had confiscated thousands of Captagon pills hidden in a shipment of fruit from Lebanon.
Captagon, a drug popular among fighters in war zones, usually blends amphetamines, caffeine and other substances in pill form.
Saudi Arabia, which wields strong influence over many of the smaller Gulf states, has stepped back from its former ally Lebanon in recent years, angered by the influence of Hezbollah.
In late 2017, Lebanon’s then prime minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni who had been supported by Saudi Arabia for years, announced in a televised address from Riyadh that he was resigning, citing Iran’s “grip” on his country.
He spent two weeks in Riyadh amid speculation he was being kept under house arrest there, before France intervened. He withdrew his resignation after arriving back in Lebanon.
Suleiman Franjieh, who heads Lebanon’s Marada Movement and endorsed Kordahi’s nomination as a minister, sprang to his defence on Saturday.
He did not nominate him “to offer him as a sacrifice to anyone,” he said.
“Kordahi’s remarks reflected his opinion… he has proposed to me that he offer his resignation… but I refused because he did not make any mistake,” Franjieh added.