Lebanon PM quits, fears for life

Saad Hariri addresses a conference in Beirut on Friday, just before leaving Lebanon and announcing his resignation as prime minister. (EPA Photo)

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri unexpectedly resigned on Saturday in a televised speech from Saudi Arabia, saying he feared for his life and accusing Iran and its proxies of destabilising his country and the region.

Hariri, a pro-Saudi Sunni politician whose father was assassinated while in office in 2005, said Lebanon had suffered enough because of the Iranian-backed Hizbollah and its grip on politics.

“I want to say to Iran and its followers that they are losing in their interference in the affairs of Arab nations, and our nation will rise as it did before — and the hands that are extended to it with evil will be cut off,” he said.

The resignation raises the prospect of a renewed political confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Lebanon at a time when Teheran and its allies are widely seen to have won the proxy war against Sunni powers in neighbouring Syria. Saudi Arabia and Iran are on opposite ends of other regional conflicts such as Yemen and Iraq.

The Lebanese government includes Hizbollah members, and Hariri’s decision aims to weaken the group’s legitimate representation in domestic politics, said Sami Nader, head of the Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs. “It’s part of an all-out Saudi confrontation with Iran,” he said.

Riad Kahwaji, head of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said the decision also shows that Saudi Arabia will not accept the current political structure in Lebanon, where a pro-Hizbollah president is tilting the balance of power in favour of the militant group.

Hariri left Beirut for Saudi Arabia on a “work visit” on Friday, his office said in a statement, the second trip there in less than a week. He met Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the kingdom’s predominant leader, on Oct 30.

In the speech, the outgoing premier expressed fears that he could be assassinated like his father, former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, who was killed in an explosion in 2005.

Hariri inherited his father’s political influence. He served as prime minister from 2009-11 and took office again in 2016.

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