Following Saudi rapprochement with al-Assad, “S-S” comes to fore in Lebanon
The year 2010 witnessed the arrival of the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, and the then Saudi king, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, to the Lebanese capital, Beirut, after years of estrangement, announcing the end of the dispute that began between them with the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.
Al-Assad and his regime were directly accused of carrying out the assassination, having direct control over the security and political situation in Lebanon, and because of differences between Hariri and al-Assad that took root after Damascus imposed the extension for a third presidential term for former President Emile Lahoud.
After that visit, what was later known as the “S-S” equation became widespread, that is, a Syrian-Saudi consensus that would lead to resolving the political crisis in Lebanon and maintaining balance in it.
Thirteen years after that visit, and after a second boycott following the regime’s implementation of systematic killings and violations amounting to war crimes against civilians in Syria, al-Assad accepted the invitation of the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to attend the Arab summit in Jeddah, which marked the end of the boycott between the two parties that began in 2011.
The rapprochement opened the door to media analysis about the possibility of this equation returning again, coinciding with a severe economic crisis hitting Lebanon and another political crisis represented in the failure to elect a president for the republic since 2022, and thus the absence of forming a government.
This rapprochement prompted many Lebanese media outlets to talk again about the return of the equation to the Lebanese political scene, especially since one of the presidential candidates in Lebanon, Suleiman Franjieh, is one of the most prominent allies of al-Assad.
On May 24, the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, which is close to Hezbollah, published a report titled, “Syrian satisfaction with the results of Jeddah: S-S is back.”
The newspaper believed that the equation is returning to impose itself soon again and perhaps better than the previous stage.
The Saudi newspaper al-Riyadh published a report in May after al-Assad attended the Arab summit in Jeddah, and it was reported by several Arab websites, in which it also talked about the equation and its return before deleting it later.
According to what the Lebanese al-Jadeed channel quoted from the deleted report, the coming period will witness Saudi activity in the Lebanese file in agreement with the regime to resolve the Lebanese crisis, and this file was at the top of the agenda of the talks between bin Salman and al-Assad.
“S-S” and the Saudi interest
Saudi moves at the regional level and its agreement with Iran indicate the possibility of influencing the crisis situation in Lebanon, which is what the Saudi political analyst Abdullah al-Qahtani points out by saying, “Riyadh is indeed seeking Lebanon’s stability.”
Al-Qahtani told Enab Baladi that Saudi Arabia is seeking more stability in the region within a general strategic vision and not within its own interests in Lebanon.
Asaad Bishara, a journalist specializing in Saudi affairs, says that what Riyadh is doing is in line with a general Arab vision.
This vision includes ensuring that Lebanon does not become a hotbed of terrorism or a stable for the manufacture of drugs, but rather that there be a solution for militia weapons outside the Lebanese state with border control, Bishara told Enab Baladi.
The decisions of the recent Arab summit in Jeddah on the Syrian file focused on resuming the work of the Constitutional Committee, combating drugs, and the return of refugees.
Al-Qahtani, in turn, considered that “S-S” is a term that Nabih Berri and Hezbollah came up with to say that the agreement between the Syrian regime and Saudi Arabia provides a stable situation, even though Berri and Hezbollah failed to run Lebanon.
Does the regime have enough power?
The Hariri assassination led to massive demonstrations in Lebanon, known as the “Cedar Revolution,” which demanded an end to the Syrian presence in Lebanon, which had continued since 1976, and indeed the Syrian forces left in 2005.
The Syrian regime’s interventions in Lebanese politics continued even after its withdrawal, indirectly through its local allies.
With the start of the Syrian revolution, the regime began to seek the help of Hezbollah fighters in its military operations inside the Syrian lands, and the party also took control of areas of the Syrian lands in various regions, such as the countryside of Damascus and Homs.
Hezbollah’s intervention prompted analysts and experts to say that its influence in Syria has become greater than that of the al-Assad regime in Lebanon, which raises the question of whether the “S-S” equation is applicable in the current circumstances, or whether the Syrian regime is actually able to re-impose guardianship over Lebanon.
Bishara says that the Syrian regime is no longer able to restore its tutelage over Lebanon as it was before 2005, and it is now asking its Lebanese factions, when seeking its opinion on a matter, to return to Hezbollah.
Thus, according to Bishara, the regime has reached a stage of weakness that makes it not think of restoring its tutelage, and Hezbollah has been capable of carrying out the tutelage mission since 2005.
Bishara also linked the Saudi vision on Lebanon and Riyadh’s relationship with Damascus to the fact that the “S-S” equation is no longer valid in its old form, and despite the invitation extended to the regime to attend the summit, this does not mean a complete normalization of relations.
The normalization of relations is fully linked to the implementation of a number of demands by Damascus, foremost of which is the fight against drugs, the return of refugees, and the launch of the political process in accordance with international resolutions.
“No Arab country can agree to the return of Syrian tutelage over Lebanon,” Bishara concluded.
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