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, Reuters reports.
One of Lebanon's main politicians, Jumblatt was speaking days after leading Sunni Muslim politician, Saad Al-Hariri, withdrew from political life, citing Iranian influence as one of the reasons he saw no hope of positive change.
The move by Hariri, three times Prime Minister, has opened a new phase in Lebanon's sectarian politics, adding to uncertainties four months from a parliamentary election and as Lebanon faces a crippling financial crisis.
Jumblatt and Hariri were both part of the Western-backed March 14 Alliance that confronted the heavily-armed Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon after the 2005 assassination of Hariri's father, Rafik Al-Hariri.
In an interview with broadcaster, MTV, Jumblatt said Hariri's decision left a vacuum in Sunni politics that nobody could replace.
"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.
Ties with US-allied Gulf Arab states that once spent billions in Lebanon have been strained for years by Hezbollah's influence.
Established by Iran's Revolutionary Guards in 1982, the heavily armed Hezbollah has long been Lebanon's strongest group with a militia more powerful than the national army.
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.
He said that, during a recent visit to Moscow, he had asked Russian officials to deliver a message to Iran to respect the importance of Lebanon, including its diversity.
Referring to Hezbollah's arsenal, he said: "We are saying we aren't a missile arena, we aren't a platform for rockets."
He vowed to continue "peaceful, political confrontation".
Jumblatt also accused Hezbollah of playing a main role in smuggling drugs to the Gulf. Hezbollah denies this.
Jumblatt also said Lebanon could not meet a Gulf Arab demand for the implementation of a UN Security Council resolution that would require the disarmament of Hezbollah – one of several conditions for thawing ties with Beirut.
"We cannot implement. It is impossible to implement," he said.