RIYADH – Saudi Arabia is expanding its military arsenal to counter what it sees as Iran’s growing influence in a region convulsed by violence.

Analysts and diplomats say Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon after Syrian and Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas kidnapped two soldiers has added to predominantly Sunni Saudi Arabia’s alarm at Shia powerhouse Iran’s policies in the Middle East.

“There is now an understanding that Iran has to be countered,” a Saudi adviser told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There is going to be a huge strategic spending on defence, based on a new defence doctrine.”

Over the past year Saudi officials have spoken publicly against Iranian influence in Shia governed Iraq and the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

After Israel bombarded Lebanon, US ally Saudi Arabia blamed Shia Hezbollah for the blitz that has so far killed more than 300 people and ravaged the infrastructure.

“Iran has been a lot more aggressive (over last year) … it was made the Saudis sit up in a way they haven’t for a good 10 years,” said a Western diplomat in Riyadh. “Who in the long term is their main strategic threat? They see it as Iran.”

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