Arab foreign ministers unite positions against Iran, Hezbollah
London- Arab foreign ministers have reiterated criticism of the role being played by Iran and Hezbollah in the Middle East during an Arab League emergency meeting in Cairo.
The November 18 meeting, called for by Saudi Arabia, came after Yemeni Houthi rebels fired an allegedly Iranian-made missile at Riyadh on November 4 and a November 10 attack on a vital Bahraini pipeline by what Manama said was Iran-backed terrorists.
“We are not declaring war on Iran at this stage,” said Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul-Gheit during the emergency session. However, he asserted that the “next stage” could see his organisation call for a UN Security Council meeting in order to formally submit an Arab resolution against Iran.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz appeared to further escalate tensions with Iran when he described Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as the “new Hitler of the Middle East” in an interview with the New York Times.
“We learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work. We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East,” he said. Crown Prince Mohammed acknowledged that Riyadh was seeking to build an Arab “coalition” to stand up to Iran.
Saudi Arabia had earlier described the launch of a ballistic missile by Yemeni Houthi rebels, which was intercepted over Riyadh, as “direct military aggression” and an “act of war” by Iran, saying Riyadh reserved the “right to respond.”
Tehran has been backing the Houthi rebels in the conflict, including supplying them with arms. Although the Houthis denied that the missile was supplied by Iran via Lebanon’s Hezbollah, military analysts said that the Houthis likely did not have the capabilities to produce ballistic missiles.
“We say it in clear terms that Iranian threats have exceeded all boundaries and are pushing the region towards the abyss… Iran’s missile programme poses a danger to the region,” Aboul-Gheit said.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al- Jubeir called on his Arab counterparts to take a firm stance against Iran. “Showing leniency towards Iran will not leave any Arab capital safe from those ballistic missiles,” he said.
“We are obligated today to take a serious and honest stand… to counter those belligerent policies,” Jubeir added.
The Arab League emergency meeting, only the 12th emergency session to be held since the organisation’s founding in 1945, also took place in the middle of a political crisis in Lebanon. Prime Minister Saad Hariri had announced his resignation on November 4 while in Riyadh, citing Iran and Hezbollah’s “interference” in Arab countries.
Hariri has subsequently returned to Lebanon, saying he would “suspend” his resignation and called on the Lebanese to “disassociate from wars, external struggles and regional conflicts,” in what many took to be an implicit reference to Iran and Hezbollah.
Hezbollah has been fighting for the Assad regime in neighbouring Syria, with critics saying that its backer Iran was using the group, which is also part of the Lebanese government, as a proxy to advance its regional agenda.
“Hezbollah is in total control [of Lebanon],” said Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa during the Arab League meeting.
“Iran’s biggest arm in the region at the moment is the terrorist [Hezbollah] arm,” he said.
Khalifa called on Arab countries to hold nations where Iranian proxies were flourishing “responsible” for their actions. “We want to hold countries where Hezbollah is a partner in government responsible, specifically Lebanon,” he added.
In a joint declaration issued following the meeting, Arab League members accused Hezbollah of “supporting terrorism and extremism groups in Arab countries with advanced weapons and ballistic missiles.” The declaration specified Hezbollah as a “partner in the Lebanese government,” with many calling on Beirut to rein in Hezbollah.
The emergency meeting was not attended by Lebanon’s Foreign Minister, Gebran Bassil, but Lebanon’s Arab League representative Antoine Azzam objected to the declaration.
Following the meeting, Lebanese President Michel Aoun also objected to the declaration, saying that Beirut was not responsible for regional power struggles.
At the same time the Arab foreign ministers were meeting, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was meeting with his Turkish and Russian counterparts in Antalya, Turkey, ahead of a trilateral summit in Sochi.
“Unfortunately countries like the Saudi regime are pursuing divisions and creating differences and, because of this, they don’t see any results other than divisions,” he told Iranian state media on the sidelines of the meeting.