Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has accomplished the impossible: he’s actually united Lebanon, though perhaps only briefly.
The tale of how the 32-year-old bin Salman (or MbS, as he’s called), accomplished this is a tad complex, but it’s worth the telling.
Earlier this month, on November 2, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the scion of the wealthy Hariri family (and the son of the much-admired Rafiq Hariri, who was assassinated in a car bombing in Beirut in 2005), received a telephone call in Beirut from a senior Saudi official directing him to fly immediately to Riyadh to meet with the Saudi Crown Prince. Hariri could hardly refuse: a dual Lebanese-Saudi citizen, Hariri’s family fortune (and funding for his Lebanese political party, the Future Movement) depended on Saudi largesse—so off he went.
The next day, Hariri cooled his heels for four hours waiting for MbS to meet with him, before being ushered into His Presence, where he was peremptorily directed to read a television statement announcing his resignation as Lebanon’s prime minister and blaming Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, for plotting to destabilize his country and murder him.
This was high drama, but lousy theatre: Hariri’s eyes shifted uncomfortably during his address, as if seeking approval from off-camera handlers that he was performing as expected. Hariri then popped up in Abu Dhabi, where he met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, before returning to Riyadh, where he reassured the Lebanese public that he was sincere about resigning, hadn’t been detained against his will by the Saudis, and would soon return to Beirut.
Unfortunately for the Saudis, no one in Lebanon was buying it.