By Patrick Markey
Saudi Arabia and other Arab foreign ministers held an emergency meeting in Cairo on Sunday to discuss ways to confront Iran and its Lebanese Shi’ite ally Hezbollah, who the Arab allies say are interfering in their internal affairs.
Regional tensions have risen in recent weeks between Sunni monarchy Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Islamist Iran over Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s surprise resignation and after an escalation in Yemen’s conflict.
Hariri, a long-time Saudi ally, resigned on November 4 in an announcement made from Riyadh. Hariri cited fear of assassination and accused Iran and Hezbollah of spreading strife in the Arab world.
Hezbollah, both a military force and a political movement, is part of a Lebanese government made up of rival factions, and an ally of Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
Aoun has accused Saudi Arabia of holding Hariri hostage. Senior Lebanese politicians close to Hariri also said he was coerced into resigning. Saudi Arabia and Hariri both deny those accusations.
“What Iran is doing against some Arab countries calls for taking more than one measure to stop these violations, interferences and threats, which are carried out through many various means,” Hossam Zaki, Arab League Assistant Secretary, told Asharq al Awsat newspaper in an interview.
“Stopping them requires a joint Arab policy.”
He said the meeting would send a “strong message” for Iran to step back from its current policies.
Egypt’s state-owned newspaper Al Ahram cited an Arab diplomatic source saying the meeting may refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council.
The emergency Arab foreign ministers meeting was convened at the request of Saudi Arabia with support from the UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait to discuss means of confronting Iranian intervention, Egypt’s state news agency MENA said.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir told Reuters last week the kingdom’s actions in the Middle East were only a response to what he called the “aggression” of Iran.
“Unfortunately countries like the Saudi regime are pursuing divisions and creating differences and because of this they don’t see any results other than divisions,” Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iranian state media Sunday on the sidelines of a meeting in Antalya with his Russian and Turkish counterparts about the Syria conflict.
Lebanon’s state-run NNA media said the country’s the foreign minister would not attend the Cairo meeting. Lebanon will be represented by its representative to the Arab League, Antoine Azzam, it said.
After French intervention, Hariri flew to France and met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Saturday.
Speaking in Paris, Hariri said he would clarify his position when he returns to Beirut in the coming days. He said he would take part in Lebanese independence day celebrations, which are scheduled for Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia also accuses Hezbollah of a role in the launching of a missile at Riyadh from Yemen this month. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Iran’s supply of rockets to Houthi militias was an act of “direct military aggression”.
Yemen’s civil war pits the internationally recognized government, backed by Saudi Arabia and its allies, against the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Iran denies charges it supplies Houthi forces.