JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia: Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri said Tuesday Hezbollah’s verbal attack against his country would not affect Lebanese-Saudi ties, adding that Riyadh considered that only the government spoke for Lebanon.
“We look to Lebanon as a great country with great people, if a political party has a stance that contradicts with the longstanding relationship between Lebanon and Saudi, we do not pay much attention to this,” Asiri told The Daily Star in a chat.
“We look to the legitimate government of Lebanon so anyone outside this realm, they do not represent Lebanon. In other words, Hezbollah’s rhetoric does not mean anything to us and doesn’t reflect on the Lebanese-Saudi relations,” he added.
Asiri made his remarks while accompanying Prime Minister Tammam Salam on a two-day visit starting Tuesday to Saudi Arabia, where he is meeting senior Saudi officials.
Hezbollah has launched an unprecedented verbal attack against Saudi Arabia since March over the Saudi-led military operation against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
But the Saudi envoy said the Lebanese community in Saudi Arabia was complaining that Hezbollah’s stance was harming its interests.
“Some visitors from the Lebanese community in KSA have informed me, they are complaining that this affects their interests. They are very fearful for their own interests. Hezbollah must bear that responsibility; they are hurting their own people,” Asiri said.
But Asiri assured Lebanese in Saudi Arabia, estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands, that their interests would not be harmed as a result of Hezbollah’s rhetoric.
“Hezbollah doesn’t represent the Lebanese by any means, therefore we look to Lebanon as a great and friendly nation and those Lebanese who are in KSA are in their second home and they have been welcomed for many many years,” Asiri said. “I hope nothing will affect their trade or businesses because they are involved in big projects and big business here. I hope that they will not be affected.”
Asiri said Salam’s visit to Saudi Arabia came at a very “a very important time globally and regionally.”
“Unfortunately whatever happens in Syria does reflect on Lebanon, whether we like it or not. At the same time KSA is known for its generosity, and assistance to Lebanon whether in the security field and to uphold Lebanon’s stability in these difficult times and we call upon the Lebanese to exert efforts towards cohesion to maintain unity in Lebanon and to maintain stability in Lebanon for the sake of the Lebanese and their territorial integrity,” he added.
Asiri said he had no information that a $ 3-billion Saudi grant to the Lebanese Army was halted as reported by some media outlets in Lebanon recently, adding: “I don’t have information that the process has been interrupted. To my knowledge nothing has been officially announced, deliveries are ongoing and no decision has been made in that regard.”
Announced in December 2013, the grant features French arms, the first shipment of which arrived in Beirut in April. In August of last year, Saudi Arabia granted another $1 billion to all Lebanese security services.
Asked to comment on a potential paralysis in the government over the controversial issue of security appointments, Asiri said the Lebanese would hold accountable those responsible for the deadlock.
“The Lebanese will one day question those who are obstructing state institutions and decision-making. The government is there to serve the people of Lebanon so the Lebanese will hold accountable anyone who is impeding this process and create obstacles in the way of performance,” Asiri said.
Most March 8 groups have hinted that the Cabinet could be paralyzed in case the term of Internal Security Forces commander, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous, set to retire Friday, was extended.
“They are hurting their own people in case some paralysis happens but we look to this as a strictly internal matter but we feel sorry for the Lebanese people because of course we would like the government to be operational so that it protects Lebanon in these difficult times.”