Hezbollah, on the rise in Lebanon, fends off Saudi Arabia

The Washington Post reports: Even as Arab countries step up pressure on Hezbollah for its ties to Iran, the Lebanese Shiite militant group has cemented its status as a regional power, projecting military strength beyond Lebanon’s borders and weathering political crises at home.

The group’s rise comes as Iran and Saudi Arabia vie for hegemony in the region, intensifying conflicts from Syria to Yemen. Saudi Arabia sees Hezbollah as Iran’s most potent proxy, and in recent weeks has spearheaded an effort to isolate the movement.

But Hezbollah’s dominant position was made apparent this month in the ongoing saga of Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri.

According to U.S. and Lebanese officials, Saudi Arabia forced Hariri’s resignation, shattering Lebanon’s coalition government, which included Hezbollah ministers. Saudi Arabia hoped the move would undermine Iran by paving the way for more aggressive action against the Shiite militants, the officials say.

Instead, it rallied Lebanon in support of its prime minister and cast Hezbollah as the stabilizing force. On Wednesday, Hariri announced he was suspending his resignation as he held talks with Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

Now Hezbollah is set to potentially benefit from the turmoil, using its political and military prowess — and vast social networks in Lebanon — to entrench itself further. From its strongholds in southern Lebanon, where it made its name fighting Israeli troops, to the battlefields of Syria, Hezbollah is ascendant, with few able to challenge it. [Continue reading…]

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