The Telegraph : Lebanon’s prime minister resigned abruptly on Saturday, saying that he was stepping down in protest at Iran’s interference in his country and feared he would be assassinated like his father 12 years ago.
Saad al-Hariri announced his resignation from Saudi Arabia and the move appeared to have been done in coordination with Riyadh, which sees Iran as an arch-rival to be countered across the Middle East.
“The evil that Iran spreads in the region will backfire on it,” Mr Hariri said in a televised address. “Despite my efforts, Iran continues to abuse Lebanon.”
He also said his life was in danger and he was believed he was being targeted like his father, former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was killed by a massive car bomb in 2005.
“We are living in a climate similar to the atmosphere that prevailed before the assassination of martyr Rafik al-Hariri. I have sensed what is being plotted covertly to target my life,” he said.
Mr Hariri also lashed out against Hizbollah, the Lebanese militant group which plays a major role in the country’s politics and is strongly supported by Iran.
Hizbollah’s armed wing is considered a terrorist group by the US, UK and most Gulf Arab states and new American sanctions imposed on the group may harm Lebanon’s overall economy. Mr Hariri said the group’s actions had put Lebanon “in the eye of the storm”.
Mr Hariri had been in the role a little over a year and his resignation plunges Lebanon into uncertainty after what had appeared to be a period of progress in the small Middle East state.
In October, the parliament passed its budget since 2005 and last year it successfully elected a president, ending a standoff which had left Lebanon without a head of state for more than two years.
Under Lebanon’s complicated political power sharing system, the role of prime minister must be held by a Sunni, while the president is Christian and the speaker of the house is a Shia.
Michael Aroun, the president, is closely aligned with Hizbollah and Mr Hariri’s resignation may remove one of the few anti-Hizbollah bulwarks inside the Lebanese government.
Mr Hariri announced he was stepping down after a flurry of visits to Saudi Arabia. He travelled to the Sunni kingdom earlier this week and met with the Thamer al-Sabhan, the Saudi minister for Gulf affairs, who takes a hawkish stance against Iranian influence in the region.
Mr Sabhan called for the “toppling” of Hizbollah and days before Mr Hariri’s resignation he said he expected “astonishing developments”, suggesting he may have had advance warning of the Lebanese politician’s plans.
Mr Hariri quietly returned to Saudi Arabia later in the week and made his resignation speech from there. Minutes after Mr Hariri’s speech, the Saudi minister tweeted what appeared to be a warning to Iran: “Hands of treachery and aggression must be cut off.”
Iran immediately cast Mr Hariri’s resignation as part of a US-Saudi plan for control in the Middle East.
“Al-Hariri’s resignation was done in coordination with Trump and [Saudi Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman to foment tension in Lebanon and the region,” Hossein Sheikholeslam, an advisor to Iran’s foreign ministry, told the Fars News agency, which is closely linked to the government.
Mr Hariri was born in Saudi Arabia and holds Saudi citizenship.
Saudi Arabia has taken a more aggressive stance against Hizbollah in the last two years, arguing it is an Iranian proxy force that is destabilising the Arab world. Hizbollah’s supporters say it is an organic Lebanese group that rose up to fight against Israel.
While Hizbollah is fighting in Syria in support of the Assad regime, it also maintains large stockpiles of weapons in southern Lebanon pointed at Israel.
Both Israeli and Lebanese fear that an eventual clash between Hizbollah and the Israeli military is almost inevitable and likely to be bloodier than the 2006 war, which killed around 1,000 Lebanese civilians and 44 Israeli civilians.