Political unrest in Lebanon has political analysts fearing the possibility of war erupting in the area due to escalating tensions between Saudi Arabia, Iran and, now, Lebanon.
The tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran began to truly ramp up in 1988, when Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran in response to the hajj riots in 1987. Tensions eased in later years and diplomatic ties were restored in 1991. However, disputes about nuclear weapons and Saudi Arabia’s execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shiite cleric who was involved in protests surrounding Arab Spring, caused Saudi Arabia and Iran to sever diplomatic ties again in 2016.
Current unrest in the region started on Nov. 4, when the prime minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, announced his resignation by reading a statement on live television. The statement was broadcasted from Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. In his statement, Hariri said he was stepping down because he feared the growing influence of Iran on Lebanon’s government. Hariri’s father, Rafik Hariri, was assassinated in a car bomb explosion in 2005, which officials believe was planted by Hezbollah agents, and Hariri said he feared the same fate.
Hezbollah, a group of Iran-backed Shiite Muslims centered in Lebanon, is the dominant political and military force in Lebanon. Hariri supported the group and provided it with political cover while it supported Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his forces in the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, but because Hariri has stepped down, the group now fears that they will face strict sanctions from the U.S. government.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has called for “patience and calm” from Lebanese citizens, as Nasrallah fears that Hariri’s resignation will be “very destabilizing” for the region. According to the New York Times, Nasrallah said, “We, Hezbollah, did not wish for this.” However, Nasrallah has also said that he would not comment on Hariri’s speech that he gave to announce his resignation because he saw it as a “Saudi statement.”
Because Hariri delivered his speech in Saudi Arabia, Lebanese civilians believe that the Saudi government has forced Hariri to resign against his own will and now have him under house arrest. However, the Saudi government has publically stated that Hariri is free to travel.
On Nov. 6, Saudi Arabia claimed that Iran had declared war on the country because of a missile from Yemen that was fired at its capital. Political analysts have said that any military clash in Lebanon would be a “proxy war” between Saudi Arabia and Iran.