BEIRUT (Reuters) - Top Lebanese Druze politician Walid Jumblatt on Saturday called on Saudi Arabia to enter dialogue with Iran and said that the Kingdom’s modernization plans could not work while Riyadh was engaged in a war in Yemen.
Lebanon was thrust back onto the frontline of a regional power tussle this month between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The two regional powers back competing factions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, the last of which has become a central arena of the proxy battle.
“A settlement at minimum with the Islamic Republic (of Iran) gives us in Lebanon more strength and determination to cooperate to enforce the policy of disassociation,” Jumblatt wrote in a Tweet on Saturday.
“Disassociation” is widely understood in Lebanon to mean its policy of staying out of regional conflicts, which Hariri has been stressing since his resignation, a reference to Hezbollah whose regional military role is a source of deep concern in Saudi Arabia
Saudi policy of confronting Iran more aggressively around the region has been spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also attempting to push through difficult and extensive internal reforms.
Saudi Arabia has played an important role in Lebanon in the past, helping to broker the end of its civil war in 1990 and contributing to reconstruction afterwards.
But the extent of its role in the Nov. 4 resignation announcement by Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri has been widely debated in Lebanon and led some Lebanese to fear that Riyadh sought to destabilize their country.
Addressing Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Jumblatt said: “The challenges are tremendous and the modernization of the Kingdom is an Islamic and Arabic necessity but this mission cannot be successful while the Yemen war continues.”
The Druze are a minority religious sect present in Syria, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon.
The Saudi-led coalition has been targeting the Iran-aligned Houthi movement since 2015, after the Houthis seized parts of Yemen including the capital Sanaa, forcing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee.
On Wednesday, the coalition said it would allow aid in through the Red Sea ports of Hodeidah and Salif, as well as U.N. flights to Sanaa, more than two weeks after blockading the country.
“Enough of the destruction and siege in Yemen and enough of the human and material drain on the Kingdom’s people and resources,” Jumblatt said. “Let the Yemeni people choose who it wants and you, Your Excellency the Prince, be the judge, the reformer, and the big brother as your ancestors were.”
Jumblatt also said it is very difficult to stop the war unless issues are overcome and discussions are held with Iranians.
On Friday, Jumblatt criticized the way Hariri had been treated by “some Saudi circles”, the first time he has appeared to direct blame at Riyadh over Hariri’s resignation this month.
Lebanese officials say Saudi Arabia put Hariri under effective house arrest in Riyadh and forced him to declare his resignation on Nov. 4. Saudi Arabia has denied holding Hariri against his will or forcing him to resign.
Reporting by Sarah Dadouch; editing by Angus McDowall and Clelia Oziel