The caretaker Minister of the Economy in Lebanon, Amin Salam, spoke recently about the need to rebuild the grain silos at the Port of Beirut, which had been destroyed in the blast on August 4, 2020, when 2,750 tons of negligently stored ammonium nitrates exploded in Hanger #12, which was under the control of Hezbollah. That explosion caused 230 deaths, 6,000 wounded, and $15 billion of property damage. In addition, 300,000 people were rendered homeless. It was by far the worst disaster in Lebanon’s history. Everyone knows that Hezbollah was responsible: Hanger #12 was under its complete control. Nonetheless, Hezbollah threats have kept witnesses from testifying, and so far, despite the heroic efforts of the investigative judge, Tarek Bitar, no charges have been brought against the terror group.
If Hezbollah won’t repair the damage, who will? The Minister of the Economy called for deep-pocketed Kuwait to do so, claiming that ”with a stroke of the pen” the Kuwaitis could pay for the restoration of the Port of Beirut. This flippant appeal, showing how the Lebanese take Kuwaiti aid for granted, infuriated the Kuwaitis, as it did other rich Arab states of the Gulf. And Kuwait demanded an apology from the Minister. More on this contretemps can be found here: “Kuwait Calls on Lebanon Minister to Retract Comments,” Algemeiner, August 5, 2023:
Kuwait’s foreign minister on Saturday criticized comments made by Lebanon’s caretaker economy minister Amin Salam about the rebuilding of part of Beirut’s port, in a fresh diplomatic disagreement between Lebanon and Gulf states.
Salam on Wednesday had urged Kuwait to rebuild Lebanon’s main wheat silos, which were built in 1969 with a grant from the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development and gutted by the Beirut port blast of 2020.
Salam said Kuwait could decide to rebuild the silos with “the stroke of a pen.”
Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Salem Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah said Salam’s comments were “incompatible” with political norms on how decisions were made and urged the Lebanese minister to retract them to protect bilateral ties….
In 2021, Lebanon’s information minister, a pro-Hezbollah Christian named George Kordahl, criticized the Saudi military intervention in Yemen against the Shi’a Houthis supported by Iran.
At the time, Gulf countries, including Kuwait, withdrew their envoys to Lebanon. They returned in 2022.
Infuriated by the Lebanese information minister’s criticism of Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries, including Kuwait, followed Riyadh’s example and withdrew their envoys for more than a year. It should not be forgotten that the Gulf Arabs have over many years helped Lebanon in myriad ways. The Saudis, for example, began helping in 2007 with $1.1 billion in soft loans and grants. The Kingdom deposited $860 million in the Banque du Liban at a time when the bank desperately needed an infusion of cash. The Saudis also supplied more than a billion dollars to Beirut, in order to allow Lebanon to buy French weapons.
But after Rafik Hariri resigned on Nov. 4, 2017, the Saudis — realizing that there was no possibility of removing Iranian influence, through the terror group Hezbollah, announced a new policy toward Lebanon.. On November 6, Saudi Arabia’s minister of Gulf affairs, Thamer al-Sabhan, announced that the Lebanese government would be treated as if it had “declar[ed] war” on Riyadh. Sabhan’s proclamation came just two days after Lebanese (Sunni) prime minister Saad Hariri, while in Riyadh, resigned, ending his coalition government with Hezbollah, apparently at the suggestion of Saudi Arabia. Riyadh’s “war” on Iranian influence in Lebanon has been exclusively an economic one. After a decade — from 2007 to 2017 — of failed Saudi efforts to bolster Hariri’s Saudi-oriented Future Movement and its allies against Hezbollah, and frustrated with Hezbollah’s increasing influence in Beirut, Riyadh decided to target all of Lebanon. No more soft loans and grants were provided to Lebanon. No more huge Saudi deposits were placed in the Banque du Liban. No more billions of dollars in aid have been given to Beirut with which to buy French weapons. In fact, the Saudis cancelled $3 billion it had previously promised Beirut for weapons purchases. When the Arab League prepared to adopt a resolution condemning Iran for the mob attack on the Saudi Embassy in Teheran on Jan. 2, 2016 — a response to the Saudi execution of Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shi’a cleric — Lebanon alone refused to join all the other Arab countries in support of the resolution, infuriating Riyadh.
Kuwait is similarly ill-disposed to Lebanon. And there was a special fury this August at the remark of Lebanon’s caretaker minister of the economy, Amin Salam, when he said that Kuwait, which had originally paid for the grain silos at the Port of Beirut in 1969, could easily — “with a stroke of the pen” — pay for reconstruction of the silos today. When everyone in the Middle East knows that Hezbollah was responsible for the “blast in Beirut,” how dare a Lebanese lackey of Hezbollah try to suggest that because of its previous role in building the silos in the first place, Kuwait should now pay for rebuilding them in 2023? And how dare he treat Kuwait as an ATM machine with a flag?