ReutersBEIRUT (Reuters) — Saudi Arabia accused Lebanon on Monday of declaring war against it because of aggression by the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite group Hizbollah, a dramatic escalation of a crisis threatening to destabilize the tiny Arab country.
Lebanon has been thrust to the center of regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran since the Saudi-allied Lebanese politician Saad al-Hariri quit as prime minister on Saturday, blaming Iran and Hizbollah in his resignation speech.
Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan said the Lebanese government would “be dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia” because of what he described as aggression by Hizbollah.
Faulting the Hariri-led administration for failing to take action against Hizbollah during a year in office, Sabhan said “there are those who will stop [Hizbollah] and make it return to the caves of South Lebanon,” the heartland of the Shiite community.
In an interview with Al-Arabiya TV, he added: “Lebanese must all know these risks and work to fix matters before they reach the point of no return.”
He did not spell out what action Saudi Arabia might take against Lebanon, a country with a weak and heavily indebted state that is still rebuilding from its 1975-90 civil war and where one-in-four people is a Syrian refugee.
There was no immediate comment from the Lebanese government.
Hizbollah is both a military and a political organization that is represented in the Lebanese parliament and in the Hariri-led coalition government formed last year.
Its powerful guerrilla army is widely seen as stronger than the Lebanese army, and has played a major role in the war in neighboring Syria, another theater of Saudi-Iranian rivalry where Hizbollah has fought in support of the government.
Lebanese authorities said on Monday the country’s financial institutions could cope with Hariri’s resignation and the stability of the Lebanese pound was not at risk. But the cash price of Lebanon’s U.S. dollar-denominated bonds fell, with longer-dated maturities suffering hefty losses as investors took a dim view of the medium- to longer-term outlook for Lebanon.Speech