In an earlier post, Hezbollah was defined as a defining factor for which side you are on. If you view Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, you are in tune with most of the Western and Arab world while if you think that Hezbollah is a freedom fighter, you are lined up with Iran and its allies. The West had always viewed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization but the coalition of Arab states which included the Gulf States, Egypt, Jordan, Somalia, Sudan, Turkey etc…is a relatively new development. It’s not that Arab states are averse to developing and supporting terrorist militias and it’s not that Hezbollah is much worse objectively than al-Qaeda or ISIS: Hezbollah is under fire from the Arab states because it is a proxy of Iran and functions de facto as Tehran’s Foreign Legion, oblivious of international borders and ready to fight for Tehran’s allies, whomever they may be. But Hezbollah’s proxy nature to Tehran is a double-edged sword wince attacking Hezbollah has become, for these Arab states, a round-about way of attacking Iran without formally declaring war on Iran.
Muslim Unity vs. Sectarian Disunity
The answer to the question in the title can be summed up shortly on being pro-Iran or anti-Iran. This became clear at the summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Turkey two weeks ago. The Iranian delegation, headed by President Hassan Rouhani, placed, once again, Islamic unity on the agenda. Rouhani claimed that the divide wasn’t based on the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, blaming, once again, Israel and the West for trying to divide Muslim countries in order to increase their influence in the region. But the Saudis were not buying into Rouhani’s call for unity and the final statement of the OIC made this all too clear: “The conference rejected Iran’s inflammatory statements on the execution of judicial decisions against the perpetrators of terrorist crimes in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, considering those statements as blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a contravention of the United Nations Charter, the OIC Charter and of all international covenants” and “the conference deplored Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of the States of the region and other Member States including Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and Somalia, and its continued support for terrorism“. But then again, this statement was not read out in the conference but was added online to the conference’s website. The Iranian delegation saw a draft of the this statement and immediately accused Saudi Arabia of working against Islamic unity and of abusing the conference to attack Iran just as Saddam Hussein did prior to the Iran-Iraq war. Rouhani tried to convince in vain the host of the conference, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to delete the “offending” paragraphs and then decided to not attend the final summit of the conference in protest.
Last week, the divide between both camps grew further: While Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, praised Hezbollah as “shining as the sun” and as “a source of honor for the world of Islam” while he denounced the government of Saudi Arabia as a “corrupt, sycophantic, hollow regime” the parliament of Bahrain began pushing for a formal declaration of war on Hezbollah and denounced Tehran’s role in supporting Hezbollah and interfering in Bahrain’s national affairs. At roughly the same time, Jordan recalled its ambassador to Tehran in protest of Iran’s continued interference in the region and its support for terrorism. This follows the recalling of ambassadors by the Gulf States over the last two months.
War over Hezbollah or WW3
So Tehran might continue to preach about Islamic unity but it has become painfully obvious that instead of promoting unity, Tehran’s meddling in Syria, in Yemen, in Bahrain and in other Arab countries is prompting discord along sectarian and religious lines. The time-old Shiite-Sunni divide is once again rearing its bloody head and Tehran’s grand talks about a Global Islamic Awakening is being marred by its continuous efforts to “Export the Revolution” and to lead an Islamic “Ummah” to fight the West.
Of course, Riyadh is just as much at fault here as Tehran: Riyadh got the jitters as the JCPoA and Iran’s efforts to lead a coalition against terrorism, specially ISIS, upset the balance of power in the region – Iran had been for many years an outcast of the Western community, while Saudi Arabia was considered a firm ally and at the same time, Iran had been considered a promoter of global terrorism while most shut a blind eye to the Saudis promotion of terrorism. But this was not only about the JCPoA nor about fighting ISIS: Tehran’s military involvement in Syria and in Yemen convinced the Saudis that Tehran might have fooled the West but it certainly had not fooled its neighbors.
The rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia is getting wider with every sectarian act or statement and at the middle of this divide is Hezbollah. In a way, one should be thankful for this situation since the alternative would be an all-out war in the region which could, theoretically, lead to a world war since the P5+1 will be forced to choose sides.