Reversing months of troubled relations, Saudi royal envoy Nizar al-Aloula arrived in Lebanon on Monday with messages of strong support for the country. He emphasized that Saudi Arabia sought strong and supportive relations with the Lebanese state and people, saying, "You will see a new approach from Saudi Arabia." Aloula also extended an official invitation to Prime Minister Saad Hariri to visit Riyadh. Today Hariri is in Riyadh, where he met with King Salman and is due to meet with the crown prince.
The new Saudi policy of positive engagement is a timely reversal of the much more confrontational policy that included Hariri’s resignation under duress during his last visit to Riyadh in November 2017 and threats of economic and political sanctions. The change in policy indicates that the new leadership in Riyadh is eager and willing to learn and adapt quickly in case of foreign policy missteps.
November’s escalation backfired not only within Saudi Arabia’s traditional bed of support among Lebanon’s Sunnis, but it also drew strong pushback from the United States, France and Egypt. The new Saudi policy is in alignment with supportive policies toward Lebanon in previous years, and is also in line with Riyadh’s policy of positive engagement—despite challenges—with the government in Iraq.
The positive approach from Saudi Arabia will help boost precarious Lebanese stability in the run-up to the May elections. It is also likely to provide positive momentum for three international donor conferences in support of Lebanon set to take place in the spring.