Saudi king Abdullah said that he was “deeply concerned” about the situation in Lebanon, state media reported on Tuesday. The small country on the Mediterranean Sea has seen an upsurge in sectarian violence as a result of the civil war in neighboring Syria.
Lebanese soldiers on Sunday shot dead a prominent Sunni cleric in the northern city of Tripoli. Saudi Arabia, a prominent Sunni power and leading antagonist of the Syrian regime, has long supported Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims.
Reports surfaced last year that the Saudi kingdom was supplying aid, including weapons, to the Sunni opposition in Syria. The opposition movement against President Bashar al-Assad has been active there for more than a year but experienced brutal suppression.
The Syrian conflict appears to increasingly break down along sectarian lines with religious minorities supporting the Alawite strongman while the Sunni majority seeks the fall of his regime.
Riyadh has led regional efforts to isolate Assad’s government. It convinced its neighbors to suspend Syria’s membership of the Arab League and has repeatedly called for intervention.
The Saudis would like to see Assad go because he is Iran’s only Arab ally. Iran and Saudi Arabia are engaged in a struggle for hegemony in the Middle East.
Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group with close ties to the Iranian leadership, could benefit from the unrest. Its withdrawal from the country’s multiparty government in January 2011 sparked fears that Lebanon would once again see an sectarian violence.
Between 1975 and 1990, Lebanon was engulfed in civil war. Hundreds of thousand of Lebanese are estimated to have lost their lives in the conflict. Foreign intervention pitted Hezbollah and Syria against Arab states and United Nations peacekeepers.
Syrian troops only pulled out in 2005. Lebanon has been politically unstable since and now appears to be drawn into the conflagration that has raged next door.