Saudi reopens Lebanon front in struggle with Iran
9 November, 2017, 12:00 am
BEIRUT – Saudi Arabia has opened a new front in its regional proxy war with Iran, threatening Tehran’s powerful ally Hezbollah and its home country Lebanon to try to regain the upper hand.
With Iranian power winning out in Iraq and Syria, and Riyadh bogged down in a war with Iran-allied groups in Yemen, the new Saudi approach could bring lasting political and economic turmoil to a country where Tehran had appeared ascendant.
The resignation on Saturday of the Saudi-allied Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri, announced from Riyadh and blamed on Iran and Hezbollah, is seen by many as the first step in an unprecedented Saudi intervention in Lebanese politics.
“The Saudis appear to have decided that the best way to confront Iran is to start in Lebanon,” a European diplomat said.
Riyadh is blaming Hezbollah for the resignation of Lebanon’s preeminent Sunni politician, accusing it of “hijacking” Lebanese politics. But Saudi Arabia is also widening blame to Lebanon as a whole, saying it too has declared war on the Kingdom.
A Saudi minister has made the near impossible demand that Lebanese act against a group that is a major part of Lebanon’s political fabric and far more powerful than the weak state, with a guerrilla army that out guns the national military.
Coinciding with a major anti-corruption purge of top Saudis, Mr Hariri’s shock announcement has given rise to suggestions from Hezbollah and others that his Saudi business interests had embroiled him in the probe and he was forced to resigning.
Saudi Arabia and Mr Hariri’s allies deny that, and assertions that Mr Hariri is under house arrest. They say his hand was forced by Hezbollah interventions in Arab countries in service of Iran.