The regional contest for influence between Iran and Saudi Arabia is pushing Lebanon into a new phase of instability, with Israel unlikely to remain a spectator

Lebanon, “the house of many mansions”, has endured an apparently endless series of wars and crises. Now its foundations are shaking once again. The tectonic plates have shifted anew with Iran’s rise, and now this tiny, fragile state is at the heart of the struggle between the two great regional powers and other major players.

On Thursday, Saudi Arabia urged its citizens to leave Lebanon immediately after days of tensions that broke through the surface last weekend with the shock resignation of the prime minister, Saad Hariri, who blamed Iranian influence and said he feared assassination. That he made his uncomfortable statement from Riyadh – and remains there – reinforced the assumption that he had been strong-armed into doing so. On the same night came the announcement that a missile had been shot down close to Riyadh. Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility, but Saudi officials quickly drew the line to Hezbollah and its patron Iran for this “act of war”. There are fears the standoff could escalate into an outright military clash.

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