Foreign Policy Blogs

The King and I

Apparently Saudi King Abdullah shares my wish for peace. The Saudi King has come to Damascus today in an effort to quell growing tensions over news that Hezbollah members could potentially be indicted by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). King Abdullah will also be moving on to Beirut sometime friday.

King Abdullah Arrives in Damascus

King Abdullah Arrives in Damascus

The trip is significant for several reasons.

First of all, any trip by Saudi Royals to Damascus is meaningful. The Saudi-Syrian relationship has been rocky since the Hariri murder, and ties between the two have only been renewed in the last year. The Saudi government most likely still harbors suspicions of Syrian involvement in the Hariri affair, however, political expediency has brought the two together. For Syria the economic benefits of good relations with Riyadh are obvious, and a good shake of the money tree could do wonders. The Saudis are more concerned with Iran, and have decided that access will prove more influential than a cold shoulder.

The King’s trip is also significant because it signals just how seriously the Saudis take their Lebanese portfolio. Within a week of Nasrallah’s much discussed STL revelations the Saudi King is going on tour. This is also not being handled at the ministerial level, or through local Lebanese proxies like Saad Hariri, but personally by King Abdullah himself. If you want the job done right or something like that.

Also, it seems that the Syrian President will be accompanying King Abdullah on the Lebanese swing of the tour tomorrow. This will mark the first visit of the Syrian President to Lebanon since the Hariri assassination. Not a small thing. Remember that all things Syrian were persona non-grata in the wake of the Hariri murder, and the mention of Syria or it’s political leaders still evokes STRONG resentment amongst many Lebanese.

Lastly, and most importantly, by visiting Syria first the Saudi’s are formally recognizing the influence and power the Syrian regime holds over Lebanon. This recognition is new and represents a significant shift in Saudi strategy. Just a few years ago the Saudis were openly challenging Syrian influence in Lebanon, backing a hardline policy of isolating Syria and it’s allies. Well those days are over and this visit is the final nail in the coffin. The Saudi’s are talking to Damascus, trying to find solutions as equal partners.

The big question, the one that everyone is asking and not many have an answer for, is just what the hell they’re going to do.



Walter Raubeson

Walter spent the last two years living and working in Damascus, reporting on the Syrian social, political, and cultural scene. Recently returned to the US, Walter continues to monitor Middle Eastern events with verve, and also gusto.

Having graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science- International Relations-in September 2008, Walter's MA thesis analyzed the Lebanese political system; focusing on the impact of foreign intervention within Lebanon, particularly the roles of Iran, Israel, Syria, and the US.