Lebanon‘s stability and security are shaken by a brand new controversy following caretaker Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe‘s offensive comments about the Arab Gulf and Saudi Arabia on Monday evening.
His remarks have lodged Lebanon into a potential diplomatic crisis as Saudi Arabia responded by summoning the Lebanese ambassador and handing him an official letter of “strong” condemnation.
For his part, President Michel Aoun did not say much other than Wehbe‘s “opinions” did not reflect those of the presidency nor the state.
However, in his official role as a Foreign Minister for Lebanon, Wehbe issuing such public statements does weigh heavily on Lebanon’s relationships with friendly countries. In this case, he belittled the Arab Gulf countries and implied that they funded ISIS in Lebanon.
His highly controversial statements were met with intense criticism by other Lebanese officials concerned for Lebanon‘s security and diplomatic ties with these countries.
Former Justice Minister and former Chief of the Internal Security Forces Major General Ashraf Rifi issued that Wehbe‘s comments were in line with what Michel Aoun had “practiced before and after his arrival to the presidency.”
Elaborating, Rifi said it was the “school of destroying Lebanon and its Arab and international relations and turning it into an Iranian dagger in the back of the Arabs.”
“If there is any accountability then it should be to Aoun and his ally (Hezbollah),” he said. He also called on Wehbe to be removed from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri stated that Wehbe‘s comments “added a new exploit to the mandate’s exploits in sabotaging the Lebanese-Arab relations.”
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea also took to Twitter to criticize Wehbe. “The worst kind of people are those who drink from a well and throw a stone into it,” he said, describing Wehbe as “throwing stones in the well from which the Lebanese drank for a long time and still drink a lot from.”
This is in reference to all that the Arab Gulf countries have provided to Lebanon over the years in aid, notably during the pandemic and after the Beirut Explosion, and by providing for decades job opportunities for Lebanese.
It is to note that there are over 800,000 Lebanese living today in the Arab Gulf and at least 300,000 Lebanese families who are surviving off of work in Saudi Arabia.
Geagea added, “Wehbe was supposed to be the Foreign Minister of Lebanon and the Lebanese, he ended up being the Foreign Minister of Hezbollah.”
Among other reactions, Bahaa Hariri stated that Wehbe did not realize the gravity of the words he uttered and that “Michel Aoun and those who brought him to Baabda bear serious mistakes.”
On Tuesday, the Lebanese Foreign Affairs Committee called on Wehbe to be summoned and questioned over his dangerously controversial statements.
Lebanon’s relation with Saudi Arabia was already challenged last month over years of extensive drug smuggling operations, adding that Hezbollah‘s grip on the state has been straining Lebanon’s relationship with the Arab Gulf.