Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned unexpectedly on Saturday in a televised speech broadcast from Saudi Arabia. Media reports indicated a possible plot to kill Hariri, whose father was assassinated in a Beirut car bombing 12 years ago.
Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, blamed the growing influence of Iran in Lebanon’s affairs for his departure. He accused Tehran of infiltrating the Lebanese government, creating “sedition, devastation, and destruction in any place it settles in.” Iran uses Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, to create a “state with a state” he argued, imposing “a fait accomplis in Lebanon by the force of its weapons.”
In response, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said he was not interested in escalating any feud in the government and that “the resignation was a Saudi decision dictated to Prime Minister.”
In an attempt to limit the damage to his coalition after the resignation, President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, conveyed a message of calm during a meeting of senior officials in Beirut. The president said he would wait until the former prime minister returned before finding a replacement. The coalition government that Hariri belonged to took power only last year, as political deadlock prevented Lebanon from having a head of state for the previous two years. Under Lebanon’s constitution, another Sunni must be found to fill the Prime Minister’s seat.
As Hezbollah infiltrates government organizations, the group has become less popular domestically. Lebanese Shiites see Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria, at the behest of Iran, costing the lives of thousands of fighters, straining sectarian relations at home, and distracting the group from fighting its longtime enemy, Israel.
While Saudi Arabia is already aware of the outsized influence of Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Kingdom canceled financing for a three billion dollar arms deal for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) last year, Hariri’s resignation should draw the attention of U.S. and European policymakers. The terrorist organization has worked hard to infiltrate and influence the LAF, with the two armed groups performing training exercises, border patrols near Syria, and sharing intelligence.
Instead of creating a shadow state in Lebanon, in time Hezbollah will turn Beirut into another proxy state to spread Iranian influence and destabilize the region.