Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah raised the stakes in the growing war of words between Iran and Saudi Arabia on Friday, saying Riyadh efforts to upend the balance of power in Lebanon was effectively a declaration of war against the terror group and its Iranian backers.
Mr. Nasrallah said Beirut did not recognize nor accept the sudden resignation on Lebanese Prime Minster Saad Hariri, which Lebanese officials claim was coerced by Saudi Arabia.
“The prime minister has not resigned,” Mr. Nasrallah said during a nationally televised address in Lebanon.
Mr. Hariri’s announcement over the weekend that he was stepping down as Lebanon’s leader, amid claims of an assassination plot against him by Hezbollah, was “illegal and invalid.” During the address, he also demanded Mr. Hariri return to Lebanon to resume his role as prime minister.
Mr. Hariri has not made any public statements or appearances since his announcement Saturday, amid local reports he has been placed under house arrest by Saudi officials. Mr. Hariri was reportedly visited by representatives from the U.S., European Union, France and the United Kingdom, the Washington Post reported.
Mr. Hariri’s detention coupled with Riyadh’s increasingly aggressive stance toward Lebanon, which has long been Tehran’s strongest regional bulwark against the kingdom’s influence in the region, is proof that Saudi forces are looking for a fight in Lebanon.
Riyadh “has declared war on Lebanon & Hezbollah,” Mr. Nasrallah said, adding that “any offense to the Lebanese prime minister is an offense to all Lebanese.” Hezbollah and the Lebanese government had been engaged in a power-sharing deal brokered by Mr. Hariri when he took office last December.
“We condemn the blunt barefaced Saudi intervention in Lebanon’s domestic affairs. They can not intervene in our domestic affairs,” Mr. Nasrallah said. “‘This war declared Lebanon … is arbitrary and uncalculated.”
Riyadh further stoked fears of open conflict in Lebanon on Thursday, when the country’s foreign ministry ordered all Saudi nationals to leave the country.
“Due to the situations in the Republic of Lebanon, the official source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the Saudi nationals visiting or residing in Lebanon are asked to leave the country as soon as possible,” said an official statement from Riyadh.
The order came a day before U.S. Central Command officials confirmed a medium-range missile fired on Riyadh by Houthi rebels in Yemen belonged to the Iranian military.
“What we have seen, clearly from the results of the ballistic missile attacks, that there have been Iranian markings on those missiles, that’s been demonstrated,” Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, head of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, told reporters during a briefing in Dubai.
“To me that connects the dots to Iran in terms of who’s providing those missiles and that capability,” the three-star general said.
A Houthi statement on Yemeni television claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it has targeted King Khalid International Airport, 20 miles north of Riyadh. Saudi officials condemned the attempted missile strike, saying the attack was an act of war by Iran and its proxy forces.