Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who on November 4 announced he was stepping down, accused Iran and its Hezballah ally of destabilizing his country and spreading unrest in the Arab world.
Hariri disclosed his resignation in a television address during a visit to Saudi Arabia, saying he feared an assassination attempt. His father, the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was slain in 2005.
Politicians and observers expressed concerns that Hariri’s resignation and verbal attacks on Iran could further draw Lebanon into the bitter regional rivalry between Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite-majority Iran.
In his speech, Hariri, 47, a Sunni Muslim, claimed Iran was using the Shi’ite Hezballah militia to spread its influence over Lebanon.
Through Hezballah, he said, Iran has created “a state within a state.” He accused Tehran of sowing “sedition, devastation, and destruction in any place it settles in.”
In remarks seen directed at Iran, he said the Arab world would "cut off the hands that wickedly extend to it."
Hariri said the atmosphere in Lebanon was the same as when his father was assassinated 12 years ago.
Tehran rejected Hariri’s suggestion that it or its allies were plotting his assassination or spreading terror.
"Such suppositions that have also been made by the U.S., [Israel], and the Saudis against Iran lead only to further tensions," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said.
U.S. President Donald Trump has accused Iran and Hezballah of supporting regional terrorism, and the U.S. Congress has placed sanctions on the militia, describing it as Tehran’s “terrorist proxy.”
Saudi state broadcaster Al-Arabiya, citing unnamed sources, reported that an attempt on Hariri's life was thwarted in Beirut a few days ago. A Saudi government minister said Hariri was in Riyadh to ensure his safety.
It was not immediately clear who would replace Hariri.
Lebanon’s leadership structure is based on a power-sharing system that helped end the country's 15-year civil war. Under the agreement, the president must be a Christian, the prime minister a Sunni, and the speaker a Shi’ite.
Michel Aoun, a Christian and an ally of Hezballah, was elected president a year ago in what was seen as a victory for Iran.
Walid Jumblatt, the country's most prominent Druze leader, said Hariri's resignation was another outgrowth of the Saudi-Iran feud, and he called for increased diplomatic efforts to end the rivalry.
"Lebanon is too small and vulnerable to bear the economic and political burden that comes with this resignation," he said in an internet posting. "I will continue to call for dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran."
Hariri's resignationis "a dangerous decision whose consequences will be heavier than what Lebanon can bear," Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, told the AFP news agency.
With reporting by dpa, The Washington Post, Reuters, AP, and AFP