Quarterly Updates for (16 Nov 2017 — 15 Feb 2018)

The controversy over Lebanese prime minister Hariri’s mysterious resignation on 11/4, and its subsequent withdrawal, came to an uneventful conclusion this quarter. Although it had been linked to emergent regional dynamics, specifically efforts by Gulf Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, and Israel, on the other, to contain Iran’s growing sphere of influence across the region, there were few notable developments in Lebanon or any other contested arena.

Two weeks after announcing his resignation in a televised statement from Saudi Arabia, Hariri ended the speculation about being held in Riyadh against his will by flying to Paris for talks with French president Emmanuel Macron. Following his meeting with Macron, Hariri said (11/18) he would be returning to Beirut in “the coming days” and make his “position” known after meeting with Lebanese president Aoun, who had refused to accept Hariri’s resignation until it could be delivered in person. (Like many others in the Middle East and elsewhere, Aoun feared undue Saudi pressure on Hariri and the possibility that his resignation was not voluntary.) On his trip home to Beirut on 11/21, Hariri stopped off for talks with Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades in Nicosia and with Egyptian president al-Sisi in Cairo.

On his first full day in Lebanon, Hariri postponed (11/22) his resignation indefinitely. He told hundreds of supporters gathered outside his central Beirut home that he had tendered his resignation but had been asked by Aoun to hold off until the two had a chance to discuss the reasons and the “political background” to the decision. Less than two weeks later, Hariri formally rescinded (12/5) his resignation in a meeting of the Lebanese cabinet, during which the assembled officials signed on to a statement reaffirming Lebanon’s policy of “dissociation” from regional conflicts. First articulated in 2012, in relation to the war raging in neighboring Syria, the policy to distance Lebanon from several regional conflicts, including that in Yemen, was an attempt to defuse tensions inside the country between rival political factions favoring different sides in regional conflicts. “Developments in the region suggest a new wave of conflict. [. . .] We have to address this issue, and take a decision announcing our disassociation, in words and deeds,” Hariri said (12/5). He also warned against outside interference in Lebanese affairs and reaffirmed his determination not to allow any interference in other states’ affairs by “any Lebanese party”— a phrase widely viewed as a veiled reference to Hezbollah, an important member of Lebanon’s governing coalition whose military wing is active in Syria and is known to receive backing from Iran (Reuters, 12/5).