Lebanon's recently expelled ambassadors to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain say the rift with the Gulf is worsening, weeks after the country's information minister sparked a diplomatic crisis with inflammatory comments about the Yemen war.
Lebanon’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Fawzi Kabbara, and its ambassador to Bahrain, Milad Namour, told Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al Rai that “the matter will have catastrophic repercussions”, the country’s state news agency NNA reported on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states responded with a series of punitive measures after Interior Minister George Kordahi appeared to criticise the kingdom's involvement in the conflict in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE recalled their ambassadors.
Riyadh, which is one of Lebanon's top markets, issued a ban on all Lebanese imports. Customs figures show that Lebanese exports — mostly fruit, nuts, and cosmetics — to the kingdom reached $230 million in 2020.
The two diplomats said the situation was deteriorating “day after day”.
Kuwaiti media reported on Tuesday that local authorities issued a list of about 100 Lebanese who will not be allowed to renew their visas because they are suspected of having links to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. The report came days after Kuwait announced it would introduce stricter requirements for visas to Lebanese citizens.
“The solution is to take the necessary steps to return things to their normal course,” said the two ambassadors, without detailing these measures.
Mr Kordahi has refused to quit and is backed by Iran-aligned political parties in Lebanon, including Hezbollah.
Lebanese officials previously told The National that they fear more punitive measures against the large community of Lebanese expatriates living in the Gulf who send remittance back home.
Over two years into the country's worst-ever economic crisis, nearly 80 per cent of the population is living in poverty.
The diplomatic crisis has further paralysed the Lebanese government, while Prime Minister Najib Mikati tries to defuse tension. A mediation attempt this month by an Arab League delegation in Beirut has yielded no results.
A number of prominent politicians have publicly urged the Gulf to re-engage with Lebanon. Druze leader Walid Joumblatt told The National last week that Saudi Arabia’s withdrawal from the country will make Hezbollah stronger.
“Not all the Lebanese are pro-Iranian, not all the Lebanese accept Iranian policy. Not all the Lebanese have to pay the price for the fact Hezbollah controls the main levers of the government,” he said.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, said on Saturday that there are no plans to engage with the Lebanese government any time soon.
Saudi Arabia is unhappy with the growing influence of Hezbollah and its allies in the small Mediterranean country.
“We think that the political class needs to step up and take the necessary action to liberate Lebanon from the domination of Hezbollah, and through Hezbollah, Iran,” Prince Faisal told French television France 24.