Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said that he supports Saudi Arabia in its latest standoff with Iran, while urging both sides to de-escalate tensions after rumors that the Sunni powerhouse was behind Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s resignation last week.
In a meeting with a group of journalists, Sisi said he was against taking military action against Iran or the Teheran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah, stressing the Middle East is experiencing enough turmoil as it is.
“I am always against war,” he said, stressing the importance of de-escalation.
His statement comes after Lebanon was thrown into political crisis on November 4 when Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced from the Saudi capital Riyadh that he was resigning.
Lebanese officials and prominent societal figures, including Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, has since called on Hariri’s return amid accusations he is being held against his will.
On the same day as Hariri’s announcement, Saudi Arabia intercepted a ballistic missile from Yemen on its way towards a Saudi airport. The Yemeni militant Houthi movement, who the Saudis says is backed by Iran, was accused of firing the missile.
Saudi Arabia then accused Iran of declaring war against it because of its support for the Houthis. “We see this as an act of war,” the Saudi foreign minister, Adel Jubair, said in an interview with CNN. “Iran cannot lob missiles at Saudi cities and towns and expect us not to take steps.”
On Hezbollah’s role in the missile launch, Thamer al-Sabhan, Saudi minister of state for Persian Gulf affairs, said that Saudi Arabia considered the attack an act of war by Lebanon as well.
“We will treat the government of Lebanon as a government declaring a war because of Hezbollah militias,” he told the Saudi-controlled Al Arabiya network. “Lebanon is kidnapped by the militias of Hezbollah and behind it is Iran.”
The Egyptian president made it clear that his country stands on the side of Saudi Arabia in the ongoing crisis.
“I have said it once and I will say it again, Gulf national security is Egyptian national security. I have faith in the wise and firm leadership of Saudi Arabia,” Sisi said.
Last weekend, Saudi authorities arrested 11 princes, former and current ministers and a group of elite businessmen on allegations of corrupt dealings. They are accused of money laundering, bribery, extortion and exploiting public office for personal gain.
Sisi called the situation in the kingdom “reassuring and stable”.
Since the Egyptian president came to power in 2013 in a military takeover, his country has been shower with Gulf money to restore its ailing economy.
On his part, Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, accused Saudi Arabia of “wars of aggression, regional bullying, destabilizing behavior & risky provocations,” in a statement on Twitter.
The same sentiment was echoed by Hezbollah leader Nasrallah when he said on Friday that Saudi Arabia declared war on Lebanon with the “detention” of Hariri.
“Let us say things as they are: the man is detained in Saudi Arabia and forbidden until this moment from returning to Lebanon,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech.
“It is clear that Saudi Arabia and Saudi officials have declared war on Lebanon and on Hezbollah in Lebanon,” he said.
Hariri has not yet made any public remarks since his resignation.
The Lebanese former Prime Minister’s announcement is widely being interpreted as part of an attempt by Saudi Arabia to counter Iran on the regional arena as its influence deepens in both Syria and Iraq, while the Saudis fights Houthi rebels in Yemen.