Saudi Arabia’s $3bn grant to the Lebanese army announced in the wake of the assassination of a moderate Sunni Muslim politician on 27 December is more than a gesture of support for the flailing Lebanese state. It challenges the dominance of the heavily armed Shi’a Hezbollah group backed by political and economic rival Iran and signals a more assertive approach by the kingdom to the troubles in the Levant.

Frustrated by US regional policy – nascent rapprochement with Iran, reluctance to get involved in Syria and acceptance of the now ousted Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt – the oil-rich kingdom is putting its financial clout to use, this time with French backing. (CONTINUED - 675 WORDS)