The Middle East rarely gets a break from conflict. In recent decades, it seems there is nothing but strife in the region. As one armed conflict is suppressed, another flares up. The latest potential conflict is between Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon. This one has all the ingredients necessary to lead to the biggest war the region has seen in decades.
It could even lead to war for the rest of the world.
Late last week, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri shocked the world when he resigned, citing a “plot to target his life.” The announcement was made from Saudi Arabia where Hariri accused Hezbollah of being a militant arm beholden to Iran.
Hariri announced his resignation from Saudi Arabia, saying he sensed a “plot to target his life” as he accused Iran and its Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah of taking control of the country and destablizing the region.
“Iran has a grip on the fate of the region’s countries… Hezbollah is Iran’s arm not just in Lebanon but in other Arab countries too,” Hariri said. “Iran’s arms in the region will be cut off. The evil that Iran spreads in the region will backfire on it.”
On Tuesday, the Saudis accused Iran of “direct aggression” in the attack on Riyadh airport. They said Hezbollah and the Lebanese administration would now be “dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia.”
He claimed Hezbollah’s actions “were considered acts of a declaration of war against Saudi Arabia by Lebanon and by the Lebanese Party of the Devil”.
Al-Sabhan said the message had also been delivered to Lebanese prime minister Saas al-Hariri, a Saudi ally.
Today, Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, accused Saudi Arabia of holding Hariri against his will, inciting Israel against Lebanon, and declaring war on the nation.
Mr Hariri said in a TV broadcast from Riyadh on Saturday he was stepping down because of an unspecified threat to his life. He also attacked Hezbollah and Iran.
However, Lebanese President Michel Aoun and other senior politicians have demanded his return, amid suspicions that he is being held by the Saudis under house arrest and forced to do their bidding.
Mr Aoun has not accepted Mr Hariri’s resignation.
What this means
This is more than just another potential conflict for Saudi Arabia. Ties between Hezbollah and Iran would add to the potential for the first armed conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. They represent two of the three largest and most advanced military forces in the region with Israel’s being the third.
Saudi Arabia already believes Iran is the source of weapons for Yemen and Qatar, aiding them in their conflicts with the Saudis. Hezbollah believes the Saudis are going to attack by paying their “allies” in Israel to do it for them. Israel is never far from conflict with Hezbollah or Iran.
If Saudi Arabia decides it’s had enough with Iran’s meddling, it may choose to preemptively strike their Lebanese proxies. If Iran wants to provoke the Saudis without direct involvement (a path they’ve demonstrated they prefer), they could instruct Hezbollah to attack the Saudis through proxies in Yemen and Qatar.
There are other scenarios in play, including an unlikely direct attack from Iran or giving Lebanon direct access to Saudi Arabia thorough Syira down to Iraq. Nobody can predict exactly how this will play out. All we know is that every action, every moment brings us closer to war.
The longstanding conflict between Shiites and Sunnis may be due for for a massive regional war. Iran and Saudi Arabia are the champions of each sect. The difference is that there are enough potentially militant Shiites in Saudi Arabia – a population estimated around 20 million – that could be brought into the mix by Iran and Hezbollah.
Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations have already called for their citizens to leave Lebanon. We are one or two triggers away from war. In fact, there may already be plans in place to escalate at any moment.
The United States has interests in Saudi Arabia, Israel, and troops in various countries in or near the region. Russia is backing Iran and Syria. It’s not too hard to see the potential of bringing the rest of the world into a regional conflict if it does erupt into war.
It’s time to stop pretending like this is just another problem in a region known for constant problems. This is the closest we’ve been to full-blown war involving multiple nations in the region since 1967. Since none of the three nations have any intentions of backing down, it may no longer be a question of if war will break out. We should be asking, “when?”