Riyadh wants to contain Iran influence in region

Friday 11/03/2016
There is no such thing as good Shia radical groups

BEIRUT - Saudi Arabia and its Arab Gulf allies are no longer willing to tolerate the prominent role they be­lieve Iran has gained in Lebanon via Hezbollah and have taken steps to contain Tehran’s in­fluence in the country and the re­gion, Arab Gulf officials said.
The Saudi decision to freeze grants totalling $4 billion to the Lebanese military was the first in a series of actions by Riyadh and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members that culminated with the decision to regard Hezbollah a ter­rorist organisation for its involve­ment in the affairs of Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.
Riyadh’s action was reportedly triggered by several events, includ­ing Lebanese Foreign Minister Ge­bran Bassil, an ally of Hezbollah, abstaining from a vote by the Arab League condemning Tehran for at­tacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran.
“This was not the result of a sin­gle act but a number of actions that led GCC officials to conclude that Lebanon has fallen completely un­der Hezbollah’s control and is now on Iran’s side,” said a senior Gulf military official who asked not to be named.
This was echoed by Saudi For­eign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, after talks with French officials in Paris on the defence contract that had been meant for Lebanon.
“We didn’t stop the contract. It’s just going to Saudi Arabia, not to Hezbollah,” Jubeir said. “We have a situation in which Lebanon’s de­cisions have been hijacked by Hez­bollah.”
Since the Lebanese civil war ended in 1990 under the Saudi-bro­kered Taif agreement, Lebanon has been strongly influenced by Saudi Arabia and Syria.
Even though almost all Lebanese militias were disarmed, Hezbollah, at the request of Damascus, was al­lowed to retain its role as a resist­ance movement against Israel to force it out of southern Lebanon — a task accomplished in 2000.
But since Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon in 2005, the Iran-backed Hezbollah gained stand­ing, especially after the Israeli war in 2006 that left the militant group with large caches of arms, deliv­ered from Iran via Damascus.
In 2008, after the Lebanese par­liament failed to agree on a new president, a power struggle broke out between the Saudi-backed Lebanese government and pro- Syrian and Iranian factions led by Hezbollah.
Hezbollah gunmen overran Bei­rut and the country neared another civil war. Intensive diplomatic ef­forts led to an agreement between the Lebanese factions that brought about the election of the then- Army Commander General Michel Suleiman as a neutral candidate and the formation of a government headed by a Saudi-backed official, with a veto power for pro-Syrian and Iranian factions in govern­ment.
The Iranian influence in Lebanon grew as the Syrian regime weak­ened after uprisings in March 2011 developed into civil war.
“Now Lebanon is under full Ira­nian hegemony and the pro-Saudi factions are helpless even though they hold key positions like the prime ministry and the ministries of interior, defence and justice,” said the Arab Gulf military official.
“What use is giving Lebanon de­fence and security assistance if it cannot enforce proper border con­trol and prevent armed Hezbollah gunmen from reaching Syria, Iraq and Yemen?”
“Hezbollah has announced its full allegiance to Iran and its lead­er, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has openly announced his hostile posi­tion of Saudi Arabia and admitted involvement in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain,” the official said. “This can no longer be tolerated and must stop.”
The GCC leadership apparently was concerned with the way the international community has be­come tolerant of Iran’s meddling in Arab affairs and with the way glob­al powers, such as the United States and Russia, were coordinating with Tehran-backed Shia militias in Syr­ia, Iraq and elsewhere.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Ab­dullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan likened Hezbollah and other Shia militias in Iraq and Syria to internationally branded terrorist groups the Islam­ic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda.
While the world rallied to fight ISIS and al-Qaeda, Russia is provid­ing air support to Hezbollah and other Shia militias combating Syr­ian rebels and the United States is providing air cover for Shia militias in Iraq.
“There is no such thing as good Shia radical groups and bad Sunni radical groups,” said one Gulf of­ficial who asked not to be named. “There are extremist groups that commit atrocities under the name of religion and they all should be considered as terrorist regardless of whether they are Shias or Sun­nis.”
GCC members are expected to keep pressure on Hezbollah and will seek to have other Arab, Is­lamic and foreign countries list the group as terrorist to limit Hezbollah activities by depriving its members and leadership the ability to travel freely or transfer funds.
“We will pressure the Lebanese people and international commu­nity to take action against Hezbol­lah and free the Lebanese decision of Iran,” the Gulf military official said. “We are not responsible for what happens in Lebanon now be­cause the international community is the one to blame for allowing Iran to use Hezbollah to gain control of Lebanon. So let them do something about it.”