Image source, Reuters
Saudi Arabia has ordered Lebanon’s ambassador to leave within 48 hours over “insulting” comments by a Lebanese minister.
The kingdom has also imposed a blanket ban on all imports from Lebanon.
The move comes days after remarks by Lebanon’s information minister about the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen sparked outrage in the kingdom.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Kuwait followed suit with diplomatic action on Saturday.
The Arab League said on Saturday it was concerned about the deteriorating relations, and urged Gulf countries “to reflect on the measures proposed to be taken… in order to avoid further negative effects on the collapsing Lebanese economy”.
The row broke out after an interview aired earlier this week showing Lebanon’s Information Minister George Kordahi appearing to call Saudi Arabia and the UAE aggressors in the war in Yemen.
For seven years, a Saudi-led military coalition of mostly Sunni Muslim Arab states has been fighting the Houthi Shia Muslim rebel movement in Yemen.
Both Saudi Arabia and the rebels have faced international criticism over alleged atrocities in Yemen.
Mr Kordahi, who was speaking in August before he became a minister, called the conflict “futile” and said the Houthis were acting in “self-defence”.
The Lebanese government said Mr Kordahi’s remarks did not reflect its position – but relations between the two countries have worsened in recent years. The Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah, which also backs the Houthi rebels in Yemen, has grown in strength in Lebanon.
Within hours of the Saudi announcement, nearby Bahrain also expelled its Lebanese ambassador before Kuwait and the UAE took action. All three nations – members of the Gulf Co-operation Council – are close allies of Saudi Arabia.
The UAE foreign ministry announced it would recall diplomats “in solidarity” and also prevent citizens travelling to the country.
The deterioration in relations comes at a time when Lebanon is grappling with a deepening economic crisis and political infighting. Fuel shortages have led to blackouts with rapid inflation leaving much of the country in poverty unable to afford basics.
Lebanon’s prime minister has said he regrets the Saudis’ decision and expressed hopes they would reconsider.
A crisis meeting of ministers was held on Saturday, amid public disagreement over whether Mr Kordahi – who is a member of a politic bloc allied to Hezbollah – should resign.
There are concerns that resignations could have knock-on effects putting the country’s coalition government at risk.
This is a punishing rebuke by Saudi Arabia. It turns a smouldering row into a full-blown crisis.
The latest trigger was the emergence of old comments by Lebanon’s information minister.
But the bigger source of Saudi anger is the growing dominance in Lebanon of Hezbollah, the heavily armed Shia movement backed by Iran. Riyadh has always wanted the group’s grip diminished.
Pulling out ambassadors puts even more pressure on Lebanon.
Currently in the midst of such an economic and political crisis, many are wondering how many more blows it can take before a complete collapse.
Original Post: bbc.co.uk