Saudis exert economic pressure on Lebanon over row

Riyadh cancels €3.6 billion grant for buying arms

Angered over Beirut's failure to condemn an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and meet key Saudi political demands, Riyadh has cancelled a $4 billion (€3.6 billion) grant for Lebanon to purchase weapons from France.

The weapons are urgently needed by the arms-poor Lebanese army to combat spillover from the war in Syria.

The assault on Riyadh’s mission was triggered by the January 2nd Saudi execution of Saudi cleric Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia civil rights activist and critic of the regime who was charged with sedition.

All Arab League foreign ministers castigated Iran for the attack, except Lebanon's Gibran Bassil, son-in-law of Michel Aoun, Christian partner of the Shia Hizbullah movement.


Political snubs

For the Saudis, this refusal typified a series of political snubs they feel they have suffered from Lebanon.

The Lebanese have failed to choose Saudi candidates for president and prime minister . They have also not reined in Iranian ally Hizbullah’s military intervention in the Syrian conflict and alleged involvement with Shia Houthi tribesmen fighting the Saudi-sponsored Yemeni government.

Riyadh backed the election of Suleiman Frangie for president. Hizbullah remains committed to Mr Aoun, and the Saudi-supported Future Movement headed by Saad Hariri has been unable to replace with its own Sunni the weak, consensus incumbent, Tammam Salam.

Mr Hariri, the son of assassinated former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, is so fearful of an assassin's bomb or bullet that he lives in Riyadh and Paris. He is seen by the Saudis as failing to provide decisive leadership and break the deadlock.

Saudi Arabia has exerted pressure on members of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) to declare Hizbullah a "terrorist" organisation, to deport Lebanese Shias and Christians employed in the GCC, and to expel businesses connected with the movement.

Some GCC members have joined the Saudis in warning their citizens to leave or abstain from travel to Lebanon.

According to the Lebanese press, Saudi Arabia and GCC members intend to withdraw deposits from the Lebanese Central Bank, call on their citizens to pull out of Lebanese private banks, halt investment in Lebanon, and take steps to sever all GCC economic ties with Lebanon.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times