Kuwait stands up to Iran and Hezbollah
Ever since the ascendance of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been accused in the West, as well as in the Arab world, of instigating trouble and exporting its heterodox brand of political Islam. Iran waved off the allegations as Western imperialist propaganda geared towards subjugating the area and its oil.
However, over the past few decades, Iran’s record and its actions and those of its proxies confirmed the allegations. Its involvement in terrorist activities in Kuwait indicates that this kind of disruptive temperament is getting worse. The Kuwaiti judiciary concluded the final stage of prosecuting members of the Abdali cell who were arrested in August 2015 for allegedly plotting terrorist acts on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and storing a cache of weapons and explosives.
This incident might not seem that surprising given how Iran and its proxies have been implicated in hundreds of similar incidents. However, that this took place in Kuwait, a traditionally permissive country when it comes to Iran’s transgressions, was unusual. This incident says much about the extent Iran is willing to go in pursuit of its goals, even at the expense of antagonising its friends before its foes.
Despite Iran’s attempts to undermine its sovereignty and national security, Kuwait has maintained a publicly cordial relationship with Tehran, especially compared to other Gulf countries.
Shortly after the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon in 1982, Kuwait was targeted by a series of terror attacks that ranged from bombings and aeroplane hijackings to an assassination attempt against the former emir. The 17 individuals involved in those activities worked under orders from the IRGC. They were senior members of Hezbollah and the Islamic Dawa Party and included the shadowy Mustafa Badreddine, Hezbollah’s head of military operations in Syria who was later killed in a cagy incident while fighting in 2016.
While death sentences were handed out by the courts to some of the convicts, Emir Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah — the target of the plot — refused to sign the execution orders and kept them incarcerated until they were freed by the Iraqi Army during the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
This Kuwaiti forbearance towards Iran and its proxies includes financial assistance ($185 million) to Hezbollah-dominated areas damaged in the Israeli war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006.
Following the 2015 Islamic State (ISIS) suicide attack on the Imam al-Sadiq Mosque, frequented by the Shia community in Kuwait City, the emir and his government took a firm stand against sectarian attempts at demonising the Shias and declared that “the victims of [the] heinous acts are sons of mine.”
While this humane attitude was recognised publicly by Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, the party found it convenient to train and equip the 25 Kuwaiti members of the Abdali cell.
The alarming revelation after two years of hearings is that this cell was tasked with storing weapons to be used against targets in Bahrain and other parts of the region in case the Iranian nuclear deal fell through. Hezbollah denied the allegations, assuring the Kuwaiti authorities that cell members approached them for help but that the requests were rejected. This denial, however, was proven wrong by the confessions of the Abdali terrorists.
The Abdali affair is an additional reminder of Iran’s and Hezbollah’s nefarious activities. Their propaganda efforts to claim the moral high ground in fighting injustice and defending Lebanon and its population against Israel and jihadi extremist groups are hardly advanced by the goals pursued by the Abdali cell.
What the Abdali cell did do was add credence to the arguments for containing Iran and its attempts to stir instability and chaos in the region. This is at the heart of the dispute between the Saudi-led Arab bloc and Qatar. When Kuwait chose neutrality and tried to mediate between the two rival sides, it was predictably accused of being soft on Iran and was implicitly asked to join the fold of the Arab consensus.
Kuwait can no longer afford complacency with Iran and its proxies. The expulsion measures Kuwait took against some of Iran’s diplomats and the severe letter it has addressed to the Lebanese government requesting it curb Hezbollah’s actions could be only the beginning.
Lebanese Prime Minster Saad al-Hariri planned to visit Kuwait to appease the Kuwaiti government, which regards Beirut’s inaction as complicity with the group.
Hariri cannot repeat the line he used during his latest visit to Washington. Dismissing Hezbollah as a regional problem and claiming that the Lebanese government has no say in the matter while at the same time allowing two of Hezbollah’s ministers to sit across him in cabinet meetings, is unlikely to be received well in Kuwait.
Furthermore, it’s doubtful if the Kuwaiti government will be satisfied with anything less than Hariri’s official condemnation of Hezbollah and practical measures to curb their power, matters neither he nor his government can realistically deliver.
More importantly, the Abdali affair and all else that Iran will muster are stark reminders that, while Hezbollah and Iran are declaring divine victories in defending the cause of the oppressed, the sad truth is that their activities add to tensions in the region. Their misdeeds will bring about additional schisms and conflicts and discourage any voices of moderation.