November 28, 2021
  • November 28, 2021

Saudi Arabia bans Lebanese imports, expels ambassador

By on October 30, 2021 0

Saudi Arabia has banned imports from Lebanon and expelled its ambassador in retaliation for criticism of its military intervention in Yemen by Beirut’s new information minister.

The move is a blow to the country, which is in the second year of a severe economic crisis that has pushed more than half of the population below the poverty line.

Riyadh gave Fawzi Kabbara 48 hours on Friday to leave and recalled its ambassador from Beirut for consultations. Bahrain, a close ally of Saudi Arabia, has also expelled the Lebanese ambassador.

The diplomatic crisis is the result of years of sour relations between the two countries, rooted in the rise in Lebanon of Riyadh’s great rival and Iranian ally, Hezbollah, a paramilitary political party designated as a terrorist organization by the ‘Saudi Arabia and the United States.

“Of course it is [about] Hezbollah, ”said a senior Arab diplomat.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry cited the “damaging” words of Lebanese Information Minister Georges Kordahi in August, before he took office, as well as Lebanon’s failure to take the measures he demanded “to stop the . . . plague of drugs from Lebanon ‘arriving in the Kingdom.

Cannabis harvest in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia says drugs are trafficked in Lebanese fruit and vegetable shipments © AFP / Getty Images

A television personality linked to pro-Hizbollah Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Kordahi called the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabian military intervention in Yemen “offensive” in an interview with Qatari television station Al Jazeera.

The video resumed circulating earlier this week on social media, sparking the diplomatic row.

Saudi Arabia said Hezbollah had “control of all ports”, claiming the country had become “a launching pad for activities contrary to the interests of Lebanon and its people”.

He accuses Hezbollah of providing support and training to Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who overthrew the Yemeni government in 2015.

Bahrain’s foreign ministry cited “a series of unacceptable and offensive statements made by Lebanese officials in recent times” as the reason for the ambassador’s expulsion.

Kordahi said he would not resign over comments, but Prime Minister Najib Mikati called on him on Friday night to “make the appropriate decision” for the good of the nation as he struggles to appease a potential ally with deep pockets.

Gulf investors played a key role in rebuilding Beirut after the bloody 15-year civil war in Lebanon ended in 1990, while the Gulf is an important job market for Lebanese workers who send remittances. vital to them.

Saudi Arabia was Lebanon’s fourth largest export market in 2019, the year the economic crisis began and the last for which data is available, according to the Economic Complexity Observatory that tracks global trade flows.

Exports to Saudi Arabia amounted to $ 282 million in 2019 and $ 200 million in 2020, a major source of hard currency for Lebanon, whose crisis is in part due to years of current account deficit that s ‘amounted to 25% of gross domestic product.

But it has been a scorching year for relations between the two nations, which reached a low point in 2017, when then prime minister Sa’ad Hariri was detained in Riyadh and forced to temporarily resign.

Saudi citizens are prohibited from traveling to Lebanon, and in April Riyadh banned Lebanese agricultural products, in retaliation for smuggling drugs to Saudi Arabia in Lebanese fruit and vegetable shipments.

Acting Lebanese Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe resigned in May after linking the Gulf states to the rise of Islamist extremists Isis.

Cash-strapped Lebanon is in desperate need of international funding to help it recover from its debilitating economic depression, which the World Bank says is likely, in terms of scale, to be l one of the worst in the world for 150 years.

Mikati’s cabinet, formed in September after more than a year of internal political struggles, has not met for more than two weeks due to a deadlock over a judicial inquiry into the Beirut port explosion in 2020 .

The Arab League on Saturday called on Lebanese leaders to take action to defuse the conflict, and on Saudi Arabia to reconsider measures it says could further harm the Lebanese economy.