After months of tensions with Gulf states, Lebanon welcomes the return of ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Yemen.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Yemen on Thursday announced that their ambassadors return to Lebanon. It is a sign that relations improve with Beirut after several months of tensions.
At the end of October, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon’s largest client, and Bahrain canceled all their imports from Beirut. Then, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait called their ambassadors back.
Bahrain even urged its citizens to leave Lebanon a few days later, after “a series of unacceptable and offensive statements issued by Lebanese officials”.
The Gulf states’ decisions were made after a video interview of the minister Minister of Information of Lebanon resurfaced online. He said, while not holding his official position, that the war in Yemen led by Saudi military forces had become absurd and had to stop.
The minister George Kordahi rejected any “accusations of enmity towards Saudi Arabia” and explained he expressed personal thoughts. But that didn’t smooth the relations with Saudi Arabia. He then even resigned expecting this could ease tensions before France, a historically close partner to Lebanon, officially visited Saudi Arabia in December.
Relations with Gulf countries have actually been strained for years by the growing influence of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement. Hezbollah has a militia more powerful than Lebanon’s army.
All of these Gulf countries consider Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. It turns out that the Shi’ite Lebanese political party – and Iran – support the Houthi rebels, the insurrection that ousted the Yemenite president in 2015. Those events led to the military strikes by Sunni Muslim states, under Saudi Arabia’s leadership, against the Houthi movement.
The Saudi foreign ministry said its ambassador returned in response to calls by “moderate” Lebanese political forces and after remarks by Prime Minister Najib Mikati regarding “ending all political, military and security activities” that affect Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
“The move is in response to Beirut’s pledge to halt activities and practices offensive to Arab countries,” the Yemeni ministry said in a statement carried out by the country’s state news agency.
The announcements come a week after Saudi Arabia and the Houthi rebels agreed on a 2-month truce of a war that “fueled one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises,” according to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.
Najib Mikati tweeted that Lebanon was “proud of its Arab affiliation and upholds the best relations with Gulf states”. The country, which suffers from one of its steepest crises in history, would welcome regional economic support as it has just reached a draft agreement for a $3 billion fund with the International Monetary Fund, requiring a batch of economic reforms first.