Disinformation is proving to be effective in Saudi Arabia’s latest plan to destabilize Lebanon. Even from Lebanon’s own journalists.

If there was ever a poignant moment where disinformation – commonly known as ‘fake news’ – is shaping the Middle East and may even be the precursor to war, it is with the Hariri debacle which media are playing out now. 

That line which is blurred in nearly all newspapers in the region – between factual news and ‘news analysis’ – is being exploited by a new political elite forming in Saudi Arabia, which, led by a new King-in-waiting, is anxious to create chaos, hysteria and tension in Lebanon, as a distraction to a calamity unfolding in Riyadh itself.

Is Hariri being held against his will by the Saudis? Did Lebanon declare war on Saudi Arabia? Is Saudi Arabia preparing an attack on Lebanon, via its new ally in the region, Israel? Or even did Hariri really fear for his life in Lebanon?

Only one of these four ideas is close to the truth, but can you guess which one?

These are some of the most recent ‘reports’ by a cabal of respected media titles, which are entirely baseless and usually created by Saudi-supporting media in the region, which accounts for well over 90 percent of media in the peninsula – and is duty bound to puff up an allusion about what Hariri’s resignation is really about.

According to a recent report by Wikileaks , Saudi Arabia’s hold on media in the region is both extraordinary in its control and subtle manipulation, and breathtakingly ubiquitous in its reach. Hardly any media organisations are free from Riyadh’s grasp. And it shows.

Worse, is the rumour mill which feeds lazy, armchair journalists who are under pressure from their own cash-strapped outfits to create great stories about the Middle East. 

The New York Times using the headline ‘raising fears of war’ after both Saudi and Kuwaiti citizens are told to leave Lebanon, is both irresponsible and faintly preposterous.

The new Saudi Crown Prince is clearing out his backyard of any potential opponents he may face in a tawdry purge which has also netted Hariri – due to the Lebanese PM’s links with many of those arrested. 

But for Mohamed Bin Salman, it is a double whammy in detaining Hariri in that it helps MBS begin a new campaign against Iran – using Lebanon as a staging post. The ruse is simply to manufacture a crisis which isn’t really there in the first place, but which nonetheless suits Saudi interests in destabilizing Lebanon – to both garner a contingent level of self respect (after losing so much geopolitical ground in both Syria and Yemen) and to try and create a new crisis within Lebanon to give Iran and Hezbollah a headache; no one is holding their breath for Hezbollah to remove itself from the Council of Ministers, although certainly Riyadh would hope this would come about.

The truth is that following Saudi Arabia’s failed intervention policies in Syria, Hezbollah and Iran have grown in strength and prominence. And the Saudis are not coping well with this new phenomenon, which they only have themselves to blame for; and so, just like Qatar’s own media was hacked and fake stories were planted about its Emir – to justify an ill-conceived Saudi plan to destabilise Qatar – so too we are witnessing the same in Lebanon.

The difference is that in Lebanon they don’t need to hack or plant any stories. Lebanon’s own pay-as-you-go media will happily set the stage, call up the actors and arrange the whole Truman Show. 

Over the weekend, Lebanon was gripped by a live interview with Hariri who said he was both coming back to Lebanon and reversing the decision to resign was not out of the question. But when you see that the interview was with a TV network that he owns and that the questions were almost certainly shared with him before airing, it’s hard to see the broadcast objectively. Many Lebanese people took to twitter to point out the camera picking up a man holding up message boards to Hariri during the live interview.

Did Hezbollah threaten the Saudis?

Yet, there is no “threat” from Hezbollah or Iran here against Saudi Arabia, unless the Saudis consider the mere existence of these two entities a ‘threat’. There was no war declared. There is no chaos here. 

The Lebanese are absurdly despondent about it all and are just carrying on as usual. The local currency has not been hit. No one is panicking. But all of these absurd ideas suit the narrative of a Saudi Prince, which is almost mirrored by the very man who put him in this powerful position today, as part of a deal whereby Saudi Arabia recognizes Israel: Donald Trump. Both MBS and Trump imagine the so-called Iran threat when it often isn't even there.

Mohamed bin Salman is only concerned with creating a media frenzy which constantly puts him on the front pages and leading the news bulletins, regardless of how much of this material represents the truth. 

Like Trump, the Saudi Crown Prince is patently insecure, is obsessed with power, preoccupied with the media and how to manipulate it, and has a fervent anti-Iran agenda. And yet, like in the US, where the media is distracted by Trump’s foibles more than reporting hard news, in the Middle East this dichotomy is taken to the next level, hence the faintly preposterous notions which have been fed into the media machine, via journalists on the Saudi payroll.

What we are witnessing in Lebanon is fake news being produced on a daily basis aimed at creating something akin to the Jim Carrie film, ‘The Truman Show’, where the lead character realises that his entire life is a movie set and everything is fake. 

The Saudis believe that they can create tension or a crisis in Lebanon through this fantasy, which other Gulf Arab states are helping them materialize. And once the crisis is there, that they may be able to score a few minor points, via Hariri, and feel better about themselves for the gargantuan failures of Syria, Yemen and Qatar.

These policies led to Iran and Hezbollah growing in size and grandeur, and all that is left for Trump’s man in Riyadh now is to clamour back a strand of self respect from indulging himself in a fantasy, which is really the crux of the Hariri move. 

Apparently the joke - ‘where does the 600 pound gorilla (Hezbollah) sit when it enters the room? Answer: wherever it wants’ - is not appreciated in the irony-free zone of Riyadh whose new leaders are locking up people for actually daring to have an opinion.

Was it not Wilde who wrote “the truth is rarely pure and never simple”? The truth is that the Saudis are making a movie in Lebanon but even they don’t know how it will end.

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