Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said on Thursday that Iran had gained influence in Lebanon because Arab states had abandoned the country, stepping up criticism of the Iran-backed Hezbollah and suggesting Tehran wants to erase the Lebanese state.
In an interview with broadcaster MTV, Jumblatt said that nobody could replace Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri who announced this week that he would step away from politics — a decision Hariri attributed to factors including Iranian influence in Lebanon.
Stepping up his criticism of Hezbollah, Jumblatt said Lebanon was not a rocket-launching platform, in reference to the powerful arsenal possessed by the group that was founded by Iran's Revolutionary Guards in 1982.
"There is an Arab abandonment of Lebanon ... with the excuse of personal and political attack by Hezbollah on the Arabs, we are the victims of this struggle," said Jumblatt, the leading politician in Lebanon's minority Druze community.
Despite making up only five percent of the Lebanese population, the Druze have long punched above their weight in the country's sectarian politics.
Jumblatt compared Lebanon today under Iranian influence with the 1990s when the country was dominated by neighbouring Syria, led at the time by the late President Hafez al-Assad.
"The difference today between Iran and the Syrian rule ... (is that) President Hafez al-Assad did not annul the Lebanese entity ... he did not cancel the entity ... he did not cancel the state," Jumblatt said.
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Three times prime minister, Hariri declared on Monday he would suspend his role in public life and boycott a general election in May, citing Iranian influence as one of the reasons he saw little hope of positive change.
Jumblatt also said it was impossible for Lebanon to implement a U.N. Security Council resolution dating to 2004 that would require the disarmament of Hezbollah – one of several conditions put by Gulf Arab states for thawing ties with Beirut.