Saudi Arabia ordered the Lebanese ambassador to the kingdom to leave the country within 48 hours and stopped all imports from Lebanon, in response to comments by a Lebanese minister on Friday, who described the war in Yemen as Saudi “aggression”.
Hours later, the Kingdom of Bahrain ordered the Lebanese ambassador to leave the country within two days for the same reason, the Bahraini Foreign Ministry said.
The Lebanese prime minister and president discussed the Saudi decision and asked the state information minister to make an “appropriate decision,” which is clearly a call to step down in hopes of reducing tensions.
Saudi state media added in their report that they also asked the kingdom’s ambassador to Beirut to return home. The report says the move will not affect tens of thousands of Lebanese citizens and their families living and working in the oil-rich kingdom.
The Saudi decision to ban imports from Lebanon comes at a time when this small country is in dire need of foreign currency, experiencing the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. Since the Lebanese economic collapse began in late 2019, the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value, tens of thousands have lost their jobs and now three-quarters of its population lives in poverty.
Regional Economic Power Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s largest oil producers and exporters, has been a major market for Lebanese products for decades.
The decision came a few days after he rounded up a video on social media in which Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi described the war in Yemen as an aggression by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He added that the war in Yemen is “absurd” and must be stopped because it opposes wars between Arabs.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s office said it had discussed the situation with President Michel Aoun before calling Kordahi and asking him to make “an appropriate decision in the national interest”.
Mikati expressed regret over the Saudi move and called on the kingdom to reconsider its decision. Mikati added that his government “categorically rejects” anything that harms “deep fraternal relations” with Saudi Arabia.
Mikati had previously said Kordahi’s comments did not represent the government’s opinion, and reiterated that the minister had spoken before taking office last month.
Kordahi, a former TV presenter, commented on the television program before he was selected for the post in September. Kordahi is close to the Marada Christian Movement, an ally of the militant group Hezbollah.
Kordahi had a press conference in Beirut this week and declined to apologize for the interview, which he said was broadcast on August 5th. He added that since becoming a minister, he has adhered to government policies not to express his opinion.
“We should not continue to be exposed to blackmail in Lebanon by anyone, whether it is countries, ambassadors or individuals,” Kordahi said, adding that he did not intend to step down because of his comments.
Saudi Arabia says Hezbollah is helping Yemeni Houthi rebels. Both Hezbollah and the Houthis support Iran and are considered part of a so-called axis of resistance that includes the Syrian government and strong Shiite militias in Iraq.
Saudi Arabia was a major supporter of Lebanon, but the kingdom was also involved in a regional battle with Iran, a major ally of the powerful Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
Tensions between the two regional powers have often culminated in Lebanese politics in decision-making. Saudi Arabia is among the Gulf states that have imposed sanctions against Hezbollah.
Saudi Arabia cites the powerful Hezbollah, backed by Iran, as a terrorist organization.