Wary of Iran, Gulf Arab states seen shrugging off new Lebanese government

RIYADH (Reuters) - Gulf Arab states have long channeled funds into Lebanon’s fragile economy but its rich neighbors, alarmed by the rising influence of their arch-rival Iran’s ally Hezbollah, now appear loath to help ease Beirut’s worst financial crisis in decades.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab, whose cabinet took office last week with the backing of the Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah movement and its partners, said his first trip abroad would be to the Arab region, particularly the Sunni-dominated Gulf monarchies.

He is unlikely to be received warmly.

None of the Gulf Arab countries, allies of Washington, has officially commented on the new government formed after weeks of wrangling nor extended public invitations to Diab.

A regional source said because of Hezbollah’s influence, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will not step in to help heavily indebted Lebanon, which has been without effective government since protests prompted Saad al-Hariri to quit as premier in October.

“These states now say he is not welcome,” Ahmad Jaralah, editor-in-chief of Kuwaiti newspaper al-Siyasa, wrote last week about Diab.

“They will not agree to resurrect the snake called Hezbollah and they will not submit to its blackmail under the banner of helping the Lebanese people.”

Prominent Emirati billionaire Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor chimed in on Twitter, predicting no aid would come “As long as Lebanon is in the grip of Hezbollah and the Amal movement, and as long as its streets and universities display pictures of the criminal Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the slogans of Iran’s mullahs.”

In Saudi Arabia, columnist Tariq al-Hamid wrote in the Okaz daily: “Why is it now demanded from the international community and the Gulf to support Lebanon without demanding the same of Iran which got Lebanon into this situation?”

Lebanon’s crisis is rooted in decades of official corruption and waste. A hard currency squeeze has pushed up prices, hit the Lebanese pound, and driven banks to impose controls.

Heavily armed Hezbollah and its allies, including President Michel Aoun, nominated Diab last month after efforts failed to strike a deal with Hariri, the country’s main Sunni leader and a traditional Western ally.

Foreign donors have said any support depends on enacting long-delayed reforms. Hariri came away empty-handed from talks in Abu Dhabi in October.

Emirati political analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdullah said Beirut should ask its backers in Iran for help with its economic troubles.

“Let #the_party_of_Iran_in_Lebanon and Tehran serve you,” he tweeted. “The gates of the Gulf capitals are still closed.”

Additional reporting by Ghaida Ghantous in Beirut; Editing by Giles Elgood