Like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates are showing their solidarity with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The United Arab Emirates on Saturday recalled its diplomats to Beirut, the fourth Gulf state to retaliate against Lebanon after a Lebanese minister criticized Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the war in Yemen.
This grave crisis comes as the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati bet on possible financial aid from wealthy Gulf monarchies to revive the economy of the completely collapsing country. Najib Mikati distanced himself from statements made by Information Minister George Kordahi, who was appointed to the government by a Christian party allied with the pro-Iranian movement Hezbollah, a heavyweight in Lebanese politics, and implicitly called for his resignation .
For experts, the crisis goes beyond the minister’s words and reflects a struggle for influence between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, for which Lebanon is paying a heavy price. After Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, in “solidarity” with Saudi Arabia, announced the withdrawal of their diplomats from Lebanon. They also banned Emirati citizens from traveling to Lebanon.
Earlier in the day, Kuwait announced the recall of its ambassador to Lebanon for consultations and “the departure of the Lebanese chargé d’affaires within 48 hours.” He justified his decision with the Lebanese government’s “failure to respond to the unacceptable and reprehensible statements made against Saudi Arabia and the rest (six countries) of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).”
In an Aug. 5 television program aired on Monday, George Kordahi, who was not yet a minister, called the intervention of the Riyadh-led military coalition in the war in Yemen against power and rebels “absurd” and claimed that the insurgents defended themselves “against external aggression”. This coalition, which intervened in Yemen in 2015 and also includes the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, supports power against the Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, Saudi Arabia’s great rival.
Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese work in the countries of the GCC – Saudi Arabia, Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.
The Saudi kingdom was the first to recall its ambassador to Lebanon on Friday and decided to expel the Lebanese ambassador. He also decided to stop all Lebanese imports. For Ryad, George Kordahi’s comments “undermine coalition efforts” and are “not consistent with the historical relationship” between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
The small kingdom of Bahrain followed immediately and also decided to expel the Lebanese ambassador. Following the outcry, George Kordahi stressed that his comments reflected his “personal opinions” prior to his September 10 appointment as information minister, but refused to apologize.
Najib Mikati said he “deeply regrets the Saudi kingdom’s decision” and said George Kordahi’s comments “in no way reflect the government’s position”. He urged George Kordahi to “put the national interest first” and implicitly called for his resignation. But Hezbollah, Iran’s staunch ally, said it opposed any resignation. On Saturday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, said he was “eager to have the best relations with sister country Saudi Arabia” and criticized those “causing crises between the two countries”.
In May, the previous government’s foreign minister, Charbel Wehbé, resigned after calling the Gulf states “Bedouins” and having links to the jihadist group “Islamic State”.
Najib Mikati formed a crisis team that met in Beirut on Saturday in the presence of US embassy number two Richard Michaels. After the meeting, Education Minister Abbas Halabi said he was “hopeful” that the crisis would be resolved.
The war in Yemen that started in 2014 left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians, and displaced millions.