BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Lebanese Shi‘ite Muslim group Hezbollah said on Thursday that a Saudi-led 34-nation anti-Islamic State coalition announced this week had been formed “in a suspicious way” and it questioned Saudi Arabia’s competence to lead it.
Hezbollah, which has repeatedly criticised Sunni heavyweight Saudi Arabia over its military operations in Yemen and its support for Sunni Muslim Islamist rebels in Syria, also rejected the idea of Lebanon’s participation in the coalition.
The group, which views the Saudi leadership in the same light as traditional enemies Israel and the United States, accuses Riyadh of being responsible for the spread of hardline Islam by adopting the Wahhabi school of the religion.
This follows a strict version of Islam and has inspired most Sunni jihadist groups.
“The formation of this coalition is something that was hastily done and in a suspicious way which raises many questions. On top of this, there is the question about the extent of competence of the Saudis to lead a coalition against terrorism,” Hezbollah said in a statement.
Western governments welcomed the announcement of the coalition this week but there was uncertainty over how it would work.
Hezbollah, an ally of Iran, is an important player in the struggle playing out across the Middle East between the conservative Sunni Muslim government of Saudi Arabia and the Shi‘ite Islamist government of Iran.
Hezbollah has sent fighters across the border to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his fight against Sunni Islamist fighters.
Lebanon has also been an arena for Saudi-Iranian rivalry between Hezbollah and its allies on the one hand, and a rival alliance led by Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri, who is backed by Riyadh, on the other.
The group said it was surprised to know that Lebanon, which has been without a president for 18 months, was part of the coalition “without any of the Lebanese knowing about it.”
Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam said Lebanon had been asked by the Saudi leadership to join the coalition which he welcomed since Lebanon considers itself “in the frontline in fighting terrorism.”
Salam, in statement this week from his office, also said that the coalition was a “step for the interest of all the people in Muslim countries.”
“The group sees that what the prime minister said was his personal opinion and is not binding on anyone,” Hezbollah said.
Lebanon’s participation in any military coalition requires a decision from the cabinet and parliamentary approval, which both include members of Hezbollah and its allies, it said.
Reporting by Mariam Karouny; Editing by Richard Balmforth