Tag Archives: Sunni

#Islam: Why Sunnis Fear Shiites

Hillel Fradkin & Lewis Libby

The recent Arab revolts in the Middle East and the concomitant “Islamic Awakening” have not merely shaken up the order of an already violent and unstable region. They have reanimated the bloodiest and longest-running dispute in Muslim politics: which branch of Islam, Sunni or Shia, is to rule the Muslim polity. This rivalry dates back some 1,300 years to the death of Muhammad, and while it has occasionally been set aside for reasons of expedience, it has never been resolved. The continuing conflagrations following the mislabeled Arab Spring, increasingly shaped by this ancient Sunni–Shia tension, are set to rage on indefinitely. Affairs in the Middle East are accelerating back to the old normal: a state of hot holy war.The seemingly internal conflict in Syria has become the war’s central front. Sunni and Shia alike have been drawn into the conflict as the Syrian tragedy has unfolded. Inspired by the revolts in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, in March 2011 Syrians—a predominantly Sunni population—mounted initially peaceful protests against the rule of the Shia-offshoot Alawite regime headed by Bashar al-Assad. Secure in his support from the extremist Iranian regime, Assad responded with great brutality. His opponents responded in kind, fueled by money and arms from their Sunni patrons in the Gulf Arab states and by Sunni Islamists from both the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda. They fear what they have taken to calling, with alarm, the “Shia crescent.” The term connotes a swath of Iranian Shiite influence across the Arab world and, via Syria, to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Syria functions as Iran’s direct operational link to its terrorist arm Hezbollah and to the Shiite plurality in Lebanon. It borders Iraq, whose Shiite majority may be radicalized, and Turkey, whose Sunni leadership can be monitored and checked.

As the Syrian revolt proceeded, sectarian elements came to the fore. The momentum frequently shifted back and forth between the Iranian-backed Assad and the Sunni rebels. But this past spring, when Assad’s fortunes waned, Iran doubled down. It arranged for Shiite Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite “volunteers” to join the fray directly and massively, tipping the battle for Syria into Shiite hands. Iran is now winning what one Iranian officer has described as “an epic battle for Shiite Islam.”

As this has gone on, the willful retraction of American influence in the region has fanned both Iranian ambitions and Sunni fears. The Middle East is well versed in the posturings and weaknesses of foreign sovereigns. In Shiite and Sunni eyes alike, President Barack Obama’s proposed deals relating to Syrian chemical weapons and Iran’s nuclear program translate into large gains for radical Shiism.

It is tempting, naturally, for Americans to stay out of a fight between two holy armies who oppose the United States and its allies. To put it very mildly, neither radical Shiite nor radical Sunni groups share our values or serve our interests. Still, as a practical matter, this does not mean that one of our enemies is not a more potent threat than the other. Of all the distasteful regimes in the region, only Iran’s has defined itself from its foundation as our mortal enemy and acted accordingly ever since. Moreover, Iran’s capacity to pursue hostile action toward America is currently growing. Thus, Iran presents the more serious threat to our well-being. If it emerges the victor in the fight for the future of political Islam and regional dominance, American interests will probably be endangered to an extent not seen since the Cold War. This is especially true if an Iranian victory is coupled with the regime’s attainment of a nuclear weapon. Not only will America’s ally Israel be under constant threat of annihilation, but American influence in the Middle East will be made hostage to credible Iranian policy blackmail. And yet, given the current status of the Sunni–Shia conflict, this is where we’re headed. “Iran grows more powerful day by day,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recently gloated. It’s hard to disagree.

There are several reasons for thinking that radical Shiism, as manifested in the Iranian regime, might continue to dominate and ultimately win this holy war. First, the Shiite camp enjoys the advantage of the more-or-less unitary leadership of Iran. Perhaps in time internal Iranian opposition could challenge the regime in Tehran, but for now the ayatollahs seem to have stifled any such efforts. Outside Iran, some Shiite clerics in Iraq reject the Khomeinist doctrine of the “Rule of the Jurisprudent,” but this “quietist” school of Shiism is not interested in governing its Persian neighbors and, in any case, is frequently undermined by other clerics working in Iraq on Iran’s behalf. So the concentrated center of Shiite power remains in Iran and is, moreover, strengthened by the support of outside non-Muslim powers—principally Russia and China.

By contrast, the Sunni camp is profoundly divided, and therefore weak. This weakness is manifest in the split among the Sunni Islamist forces fighting Assad in Syria. The result is increasingly frequent military fights between sides, to say nothing of the ongoing fights with more secular Sunni militias.

Beyond Syria, things are scarcely more cohesive for Sunnis. The Sunni nations of Arabia and the Gulf lack the size and reach of Iran. They have provided money and arms to the Sunni rebels fighting Assad, but as they themselves support different Islamist groups inside Syria, they’ve also contributed to the infighting. What’s more, the broader conflicts among these countries have derailed joint efforts.

The unsettled condition of Sunni-majority Egypt, the world’s largest Arab country, has had a demoralizing and divisive effect as well. While ousted Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi had suggested that Egypt might provide greater support for the Syrian opposition, that proposal proved so unpopular it might very well have been a contributing factor in his removal by the Egyptian military. The new regime has made clear that it wants no part of the Syrian civil war.

Perhaps the most surprising of the Sunnis’ weak links is Turkey. The country shares a long border with Syria and is therefore on the frontline of the struggle. In recent years, its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had put forward claims to not only Sunni leadership but regional leadership as well. After Turkey declared its enmity for Assad, it was reasonable to expect it to take a significant, even decisive, role in the struggle. After all, Turkey is equal in size to Iran and in possession of a large modern army. And under Erdogan’s rule, underwritten by three successive electoral victories, Turkey had enjoyed unprecedented economic prosperity and political stability. As a result of this and Erdogan’s Islamist roots and leanings, Turkey appeared to enjoy great prestige within Arab countries, especially those where Islamist forces were coming to the fore. The Brotherhood movements held Turkey in high regard.

Yet over the two years since Erdogan declared that Assad must step down, he’s done little to make that happen. Additionally, he’s begun to face his own domestic legitimacy crisis; there have now been several large protests against Erdogan’s mode of rule. Among the many objections fueling the protests was Erdogan’s Syria policy, which was deemed by some to be too aggressive and risky for Turkey. Meanwhile, Erdogan’s weakness has been further exposed by his failure to garner any regional leader’s support in his continuing campaign against the ouster of Egypt’s Morsi. Erdogan went out on a limb, and no one followed. Within the constellation of Sunni countries—Arab and non-Arab—no one has a claim on leadership, least of all Turkey, the most powerful among them.

Yet another contribution to Sunni disarray is the lack of a credible, external non-Muslim patron—namely, the United States. In the past, America had de facto supported Sunni interests, but Obama is not following that path. After making pronouncements about the necessary departure of Assad, he gave very little material support to the opposition. And then, after more such pronouncements, he conveyed the expectation that Assad will survive with diminished control over Syrian territory. Last came Obama’s big Syrian debacle: The administration announced plans for a small attack aimed only at Syria’s chemical-weapons capabilities—before embracing a Russian proposal that would allow Assad to avoid even that.

The American retreat from a Syria strike follows on the heels of Obama’s abandoning a U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, which would have weighed on Iranian calculations. In all this, Washington has ensured a powerful impression of weakness. If America is so reluctant to act in the face of Assad’s clear provocation, so ready to abandon its positions, both Sunnis and Shiites are likely to conclude that the United States does not have the stomach for the contests to come with Iran, including the matter of the supposedly ambiguous Iranian nuclear program. Tellingly, a top adviser to Erdogan (whom Obama had assiduously courted) recently described the American president as a “half leader.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, Erdogan’s aide proclaimed, is a “whole leader.” And this was before Putin’s diplomacy rescued Obama from action in Syria.

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Though there are few prospects for true Sunni success in Syria (or the larger sectarian war), there are possible scenarios in which Sunnis can regain some ground lost to Shiites. But even these eventualities offer limited hope of doing serious damage to Iran. For example, the civil war might allow the Syrian rebels to carve out a mini-state in what was once greater Syria. Such an area would probably be governed by the Jihadist groups most hostile to the Shiites. One of those groups, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, would undoubtedly try to combine Sunni areas of Iraq with a Sunni-controlled Syrian area. This mini-state would be a frontline base for continuing the fight against Shiites. But Iran has demonstrated a fierce devotion to its aims, and its willingness to expend treasure and blood will not lapse even if its ally has lost partial control of his dominion.

In any event, Iranian nuclear weapons are likely to push Sunni powers toward greater and greater accommodation to Iran’s will (to be, so to speak, “Finlandized”). Consider just one important Sunni country, and American ally, Saudi Arabia. In recent years, Iran has tried to raise the price of oil by getting the Saudis to limit its production. So far, the Saudis have shot down these requests, but they may not feel free to do so if Iran possesses a nuclear bomb (and especially if Russia—which has its own interest in high prices—joins Iran in applying pressure). Even if Saudi Arabia were to obtain its own nuclear deterrent, Iran’s more ideologically radical foreign policy would render any Saudi attempt at brinkmanship a very bad option.

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Current Sunni–Shiite polemics often invoke an earlier period of large scale Sunni–Shiite warfare: the rivalry between the Sunni Ottoman Caliphate and the Shiite Safavid Persian empire, which ran its course in the 16th and 17th centuries. In that struggle the powerful resources of the Ottoman state kept Safavid power in check relatively easily. As a result Sunnis may be heartened by its recollection.

But there was another time when the Muslim world was in a predicament perhaps still more similar to the one it faces today. In the 10th and 11th centuries, the radical Shiite regime known as the Fatimids, based in Egypt and acting in sometime alliance with a Shiite dynasty ruling in Baghdad, dominated the Middle East and the Sunnis. The Shia were able to attain power in large part because the Sunnis were divided. Ultimately the Sunnis did reemerge as the dominant force, but that required a new Sunni element from outside the region—the Seljuk Turks.

There is no such Sunni equivalent to the Seljuk Turks today, but non-Islamic external powers could still play a countervailing role. Thus far, the Obama administration has declined to do so, arguing implicitly that developments in Syria have made decisive American action a risky prospect. This is no doubt true, even if present costs and risks are the result of previous American inaction.

Are we then obliged to see Iran emerge victorious and proceed onward in its regional designs? There is another option. The most obvious possibility is to shift our focus to areas where Iran is more vulnerable to American might: its nuclear program and its disaffected heartland. But here, too, there is little reason for hope. The record of American pronouncements against an Iranian bomb is becoming murkier as it gets longer. The same can be said of American calls for Iranian democracy. As matters now stand, the United States is still pursuing a negotiated settlement with Tehran on the nuclear issue—a process that has, in truth, been pursued for 10 years with nothing to show for it. Iran’s new president, Rouhani, has taken to speaking in the soft and vague diplomatic terms that hopeful Westerners describe as moderate. Obama-administration diplomats seem to be fully on board with this reading of matters. But as a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has noted of Rouhani: “The language is and should be different; but the goal remains the same.” Indeed, Rouhani’s pre-presidential career is an anthology of the kind of anti-American apocalyptic oratory that no hopeful American diplomat should mistake for moderation.

The most effective option for stopping Iran’s march to regional dominance would be the judicious application of military force. Nobody but President Obama can know for sure if the United States will exercise that option, but the recent record of American retrenchment and accommodation makes it ever more doubtful.

But if the United States determines that striking Iran is, like striking Syria, not worth the risk, there is one last possibility: Israel. The Jewish state, which faces an existential threat from Iran, may take military action to halt the mullahs’ nuclear program. The Israelis are an improbable stand-in for the Seljuk Turks, yet as Mark Twain famously said, “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” It is a rhyme, moreover, that seems plausible enough to a number of Sunni Gulf-Arab leaders who have privately confided their support for an Israeli strike on Iran. If such a strike were to occur and be successful, it might initiate a positive change in the trajectory of the Sunni–Shiite war by reversing the fortunes of today’s Fatimids.

About the Authors

Hillel Fradkin is senior fellow at Hudson Institute, where Lewis Libby serves as senior vice president.

Hezbollah is caught in an Al-Qaeda vise

By Michael Young 

 

Lebanon has entered a new phase of instability as attacks against Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army have occurred in rapid succession in recent days. Understanding what is happening may help us better predict what to expect in the future.

The Army has been targeted in recent days at the Awali checkpoint and in Majdalyoun, around Sidon, while a car bomb blew up near a Hezbollah base in the Bekaa Valley, before a rocket barrage was directed at Hermel Tuesday. Accounts have differed as to what precisely happened in the three bombings, but a source in the Sidon Consultative Gathering told the daily An-Nahar that nothing in the attacks against the Army suggested they were suicide operations.

Those behind the bombings targeting Hezbollah were probably not the same ones who attacked the Army, despite the media’s tendency to see them as part of the same package. Officials have suggested the Sidon attacks were carried out by followers of Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir. Given their amateurishness, that may well be true.

But the car bomb in the Bekaa, near the village of Sbouba, was a different matter. The large quantity of explosives used and the fact that the blast occurred near a Hezbollah base, which must have been under observation for some time, indicated a level of professionalism similar to the one evident in the bombings at the Iranian Embassy in October. It also implied that those behind the attacks sought to hit high-value military sites of the party, not just provoke carnage among Shiite civilians.

If so, we can identify three categories of actions in recent months: small-scale attacks against the Army, indiscriminate bomb attacks against civilians, and more professionally prepared attacks against Hezbollah and Iranian objectives.

The first could possibly be a sign of greater militancy by Lebanese Sunni Salafist groups, in Sidon and probably Tripoli. They are angry at the Army’s assault against Assir’s mosque in Abra last June and feel that its repeated arrest of Salafists reflects an implicit alliance with Hezbollah and animus toward the Sunni community.

The attacks against civilians have been a straightforward terror weapon against (until now) Shiites, to show that there is a price to be paid for Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict.

The third type of attack, against political and military targets, may point to an effort to shape the political and military environment in specific ways. The Sbouba attack could have been linked to the party’s ongoing campaign in the Qalamoun area of Syria; the blast at the Iranian Embassy was an obvious political message that the Iranians, despite the presence of Hezbollah, are vulnerable in Lebanon.

One thing is increasingly clear: Such operations are taking place in a wider context of Al-Qaeda’s reaffirming itself regionally, especially in a swathe of territory stretching from Iraq to Syria and now extending increasingly to Lebanon. This has been characterized by the effort of Al-Qaeda franchises to seize territory and systematically eliminate all those, including Sunnis, who might stand in their way.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, which is active in Syria, is an extension of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, so their actions in Syria and Iraq must be viewed as part of a coordinated strategy. In Syria, ISIS and the Nusra Front have, from the start, been concerned less with fighting the regime of Bashar Assad than with carving out spaces in areas under the control of the Syrian rebels and the Kurdish community. This territory, particularly Syrian oil fields, has provided them with a steady source of income, therefore leverage over other rebel groups.

In an effort to consolidate an alternative Islamist alliance to Al-Qaeda, the Saudis formed the so-called Islamic Front in November, made up of seven Salafist rebel groups. Its ambition of creating an Islamic state in Syria worries Western states, which believe no transitional political project is feasible if it ignores the fears of Syria’s minorities. However, in a sign of the confusion permeating American and British policy on Syria, the Obama administration and the Cameron government have just suspended aid to Syrian groups they had been supporting, guaranteeing their further marginalization.

President Bashar Assad must be delighted. Reports this week indicate that the Syrian National Coalition has been told by Western governments that the Montreux conference in January should not lead to the removal of the Syrian president, for fear that jihadists would exploit the ensuing vacuum. The SNC had said that it would not attend the conference unless it led to a transition away from Assad, so what this will mean for its participation remains unclear.

Ultimately the political mess in Syria benefits both Assad and Al-Qaeda in the medium term. The paradox is that Hezbollah, the Assad regime and the United States are all, implicitly, on the same side – which is precisely the conclusion the Assad regime wanted everyone to reach when it allowed the jihadists to thrive.

The only problem is that Hezbollah now finds itself transformed into cannon fodder in a battle against Al-Qaeda, when its initial goal was merely to defend Assad rule. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has claimed that his party’s aim is to fight the “takfiris.” However, far more effective forces than his have failed to triumph over Al-Qaeda. The only success came when the United States collaborated with the Sunni Awakening movement in Iraq to push the jihadists onto the defensive.

Hezbollah doesn’t have that capacity. The party has imported the Syrian war to Lebanon, even if it is not the only one to do so. Its hubris has been a curse to the country, and will remain so for some time.

Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.

 

Saudi Arabia: Iran or Israel

Analysis: Despite shared interests, there is little chance for normalization in Saudi-Israeli relations

Dr. Yaron Friedman

Abdul Aziz Qassim, a Saudi commentator at the al-Watan newspaper, wrote the following in an editorial last week: “The most sensitive question is being asked: Should the Sunni countries welcome an Israeli attack on Shiite Iran, as Iran remains their No. 1 enemy in the region? Yet we must not ignore our years-long hatred for this bad little country (referring to Israel), and our stance regarding the attitude towards Israel is clear: It is the eternal enemy of the region the same way Iran is the region’s biggest danger.”

 Only Arabs left without nukes

Saudi commentators and reporters have recently expressed their despair over the Iranian-American agreement reached recently, which allegedly gives Iran legitimacy to enrich uranium. The Saudis have a bad feeling that in the near future the Arab world will find itself between two nuclear countries, Iran and Israel, while the Arabs are left without nuclear capabilities.

Saudi Arabia sees itself as the leader of the Arab world, an island of stability and economic power in the Arab world, which has weakened and is bleeding following the damages of the Arab Spring. It is also considered today the leader of the moderate Sunni world, and supports the secular Sunni forces – the Syrian rebel organization, the Free Syrian Army, and the Egyptian army fighting against the Muslim Brotherhood.

 

Saudi Arabia is anxiously monitoring the split within the Sunni forces, like the war between al-Qaeda groups in Syria and the Free Syrian Army and the tensions between Turkey and Egypt over Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

 

Shared interests, but… King Abdullah and Netanyahu (Photos: EPA, AP)
Shared interests, but… King Abdullah and Netanyahu (Photos: EPA, AP)

 

Riyadh feels abandoned by Washington. John Kerry and Saudi counterpart Saud al-Faisal (Photo: AP)
Riyadh feels abandoned by Washington. John Kerry and Saudi counterpart Saud al-Faisal (Photo: AP)

 

Saudi leaders are also losing sleep over the success of the Syrian regime’s army, with the help of Hezbollah, in taking over most of western Syria. Iran’s long arms are evident in Syria and Iraq, where a religious war is taking place between Sunnis and Shiites, and these two countries are on the verge of a split between east and west.

 

In Bahrain too the Iranian regime continues to incite the Shiite majority against the Sunni minority rule. The Saudis are now worried that lifting sanctions on Iran in the future will allow it to reinforce its support for Shiite groups in all of these arenas and deepen the Fitna – the religious war between Sunnis and Shiites.

 

Are we missing a historical opportunity?

The interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East have never been so close: They are both concerned over Iran’s nuclearization, they both support General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi‘s war against the Islamists in Egypt, they are both interested in seeing Hezbollah fail in Syria, they both have an interest in weakening al-Qaeda and strengthening the moderate Sunni groups in Syria, and they are both disappointed with the United States’ policy and feel it has abandoned them all alone in the region.

 

Saudi Arabia turned to Israel in 2002 through the Arab League proposal for comprehensive peace in the Middle East, in exchange for its return to the 1967 borders. Israel never officially accepted the proposal, although senior politicians like Ehud Olmert and Shimon Peres have expressed a positive attitude towards it.

 

Recently there have been many reports in the Arab press about secret cooperation between Israel and the Saudi Arabia. But these reports should be read cautiously as they usually appear in newspapers opposing Saudi Arabia. According to those sources, the meetings are being held in European countries. The content of these meetings in regards to the Iranian issue is unclear.

 

Saudi Arabia's policy is anti-Shiite as it is anti-Israeli (Photo: Reuters)
Saudi Arabia’s policy is anti-Shiite as it is anti-Israeli (Photo: Reuters)

 

There is a claim that Saudi and Israeli intelligence officials are meeting in Jordan to coordinate cooperation on the Syrian issue. Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad recently accused Saudi Arabia of cooperating with Israel against the Syrian regime. He said there was an “operations room” in Jordan where US, Saudi and Israeli intelligence officials were allegedly coordinating actions of the Syrian opposition.

 

The US created a serious crisis when it gave up on striking in Syria and reached an agreement with Iran, but it also opens new opportunities, if Saudi and Israeli leaders are wise enough to take advantage of them. Several optimistic Saudi commentators have even raised an interesting assumption that the Americans have no real intention of reconciling with Iran and that the current nuclear agreement for freezing some of the sanctions, which is valid for only six months, is just aimed at guaranteeing that Iran will support the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria.

 

Nonetheless, most Saudi commentators see the American policy as real treason against the kingdom and the Sunni world. One of them did a good job in describing the Saudis’ feelings when he wrote that “the Great Satan (the US in Iran’s eyes) is marrying the axis of evil (Iran in the eyes of the US) and the close friend (Saudi Arabia for the US) has not been invited to the wedding.”

 

The Saudis have warned that US that it’s betting on the wrong horse as the Sunnis are the majority in the Middle East and the Shiites are a minority (20% of Muslims) and because there is more Sunni oil than the oil in the Shiite areas.

 

Iranian President Rohani. 'Smile offensive' initiator in Gulf too (Photo: Reuters)
Iranian President Rohani. ‘Smile offensive’ initiator in Gulf too (Photo: Reuters)

 

Senior Saudi officials have spoken against Iran very similarly to Israel’s leaders: “We won’t sit idle if Iran has a nuclear weapon,” “As far as we are concerned, all options are on the table.” In addition, there has been open criticism about the Iranian propaganda and Saudi journalists have written that Iran has been promising to liberate Palestine for more than 30 years without doing anything, and that its vision is not uniting the Muslims but renewing the great Shiite Safavid Empire of the 16th century by turning into a nuclear country.

 

Second option: Joining winners

Saudi Arabia is facing a very difficult dilemma: If it draws closer to Israel it will betray the Palestinian issue, and if it joins Iran it will betray the Syrian opposition. The Wahhabi ideology, on the foundations of which the kingdom was established, is mainly anti-Shiite as it is anti-Israeli. The barriers of hatred for both countries are almost unbridgeable. The Saudi propaganda and education in the country are filled with the same amount of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish and anti-Shiite content.

 

But there are elementary differences between Saudi-Israeli ties and Saudi-Iranian ties on the religious and diplomatic levels: Jews are not allowed to visit the kingdom, and according to Islam they are banned entry to the area of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

 

Millions of Shiites, on the other hand, are permitted to make pilgrimages to the holy places, including many Iranians. In addition, Saudi Arabia’s allies in the Gulf area are pressuring it to move closer to Iran. The Sultanate of Oman is the country which mediated between Iran and the US, Qatar and Kuwait have good relations in Iran, and the relations between the United Arab Emirates and Iran have been warming up recently. Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE’s foreign minister, even visited Tehran about a week ago.

 

Iranian President Hassan Rohani is now initiating a “smile offensive” in the Gulf area. He sent his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on a round of visits to all the Gulf emirates, and the latter expressed his hope to visit Saudi Arabia as well in the near future. The only emirate refusing to draw closer to Iran is Bahrain, which is accusing Tehran of the Shiite protest in the country.

 

Iran is only country which can thwart nuclear agreement. Ashton and Zarif (Photo: AFP)
Iran is only country which can thwart nuclear agreement. Ashton and Zarif (Photo: AFP)

 

Iran has called on Saudi Arabia to turn over a new leaf the relations between the two countries, and has repeated its claim that the development of Iranian nukes is exclusively for civilian purposes and that Saudi Arabia’s fears are baseless. It appears, therefore, that the option of talking to Iran is easier than the almost utopian option of moving closer to Israel. Iranian and Saudi representatives have already sat together in conferences of the Islamic countries and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

 

Despite the claims that the Saudi kingdom is holding secret ties with Israel, as Jordan did with Israel in the 50 years before the countries signed a peace agreement, there is no real proof of that. Iran and Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, have exchanged ambassadors and formally have normal diplomatic relations.

 

Saudi Arabia has expressed its hope in the past that the conflict with Iran would be settled in a diplomatic manner, but has never suggested talking directly to Israel. Therefore, there is a higher probability that Saudi Arabia will favor the Iranian option over the Israeli one. That way it will be able to fall into line with the US and maintain proper relations with the Americans, which the kingdom cannot afford to give up.

 

The expected result of Tehran’s “smile offensive” will be a Saudi-Iranian dialogue which will generate a rare attempt for a Sunni-Shiite rapprochement. If and when such talks are held, there is no doubt that they will focus on the Syrian issue and that there will be an attempt to create a compromise supported by the two countries in the second Geneva convention. Such a dialogue will bring the two extremities of the Muslim world closer and push Israel further away from any attempt to reconcile with the Muslim world.

 

The Iranians will go on insisting on enriching uranium, and on the Iranian streets people will continue chanting proudly, “Death to America.” The only one who can thwart the agreements on freezing the sanctions is Iran itself, as sooner or later the Americans and Europeans will realize that Tehran has no real intention of halting its race towards a nuclear bomb and hegemony in the Middle East.

 

Dr. Yaron Friedman, Ynet’s commentator on the Arab world, is a graduate of the Sorbonne. He teaches Arabic and lectures about Islam at the Technion, at Beit Hagefen and at the Galilee Academic College. His book, “The Nusayri Alawis: An Introduction to the Religion, History and Identity of the Leading Minority in Syria,” was published in 2010 by Brill-Leiden