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There is no doubt in my mind that we have now entered a war of open-ended possibilities. This war might turn Hezbollah into the absolute rulers of Lebanon, or return it to its humble beginnings, before 1982, when it was merely a fundamentalist group and Iran’s protégé, or even before that, as Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister has vowed.

This is an open war, with no immunity accorded to anyone, according to Israel’s generals and Hezbollah’s threats, issued in a televised address, which technically, reminded me of Al Qaeda’s!

However, the most important question remains: Whose war is this? Is it a war of Lebanon, all of Lebanon, or Iran, as Walid Jumblatt claims?

On whose behalf are those who fired the first shot acting? Did they fire for the sake of a specific agenda by the ruling Syrian regime, especially as we are nearing the start of an international trial for the murder of Rafik Hariri?

Hezbollah has drawn in Israel’s war machine, which was lying in wait, to Lebanon’s villages and cities. In the process, it did Iran a huge favor, as it maneuvers with the United States and Europe and attempts to use all its cards in the region, including Hezbollah, which is supposed to act in the interests of Lebanon…supposedly.

We are facing a gigantic Iranian assault on the Arab world, in Iraq where Iran has become the number one player, even at America’s expense, according to the Iraqi politician Saleh al Mutlaq, and in Lebanon, where everyone knows how far-reaching Iranian influence is, through its local representative, Hezbollah, since the party’s weapons, finances, ideology, media and military training are all Iranian!

The latest characteristic of this onslaught is Iran’s increasing influence on the Palestinian scene and its power over Hamas and Khaled Meshaal, after it seized control of Islamic Jihad in Palestine. Meshaal has been transformed into a “Sunni Hassan Nasrallah” in every aspect. Following the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, both men adopted extremist stances sought to direct the crisis by mobilizing the people and appearing inflexible. Hamas and Hezbollah are therefore walking the same path, set by Iran.

Iran is invading the Arab world and burning everything in its path. With the Arabs standing idly by, Iran seeks to impose its control over the region and spread its influence over Iraq, in an attempt to create a fundamentalist Arab Shiaa entity in Iraq, to support the world’s sole Shiaa country. It also wants to influence Lebanon through Hezbollah, in order to keep a frontline with Israel.

Iran is playing its cards, slowly, one by one, but it appears to have exhausted its trump card, and by that, I mean Hezbollah. This time, Iran miscalculated and quickly called for help, with its foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki saying, from Damascus, that a rational solution and dialogue with Hezbollah were needed, in addition to the release of prisoners to end the crisis, repeating the demands set by Hassan Nasrallah, as Manouchehr Mottaki was expressing Iranian conditions, and not those of a Lebanese party on Lebanese territory!

For this reason, Saudi Arabia and other rational Arab countries, held Hezbollah responsible for escalating the situation and the lack of coordination with the Lebanese government. This stance has put the brakes on Iran’s frightful advances in the region. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan said frankly, that we only recognize the Lebanese government and do not deal with any party or militia, even if it is the size of Hezbollah. The Party of God surprised everyone with the size of its arsenal and range of missiles, raising the question: Is the group bigger than the government?

Iran cunningly sought to embarrass Arab governments and counted on the inability of countries such as Saudi Arabia or Egypt, to decline to support Hezbollah (in practical terms this means supporting Iran) because of the sanctity of the cause and the fear of everyone adopting a rational stance towards the Arab Israeli conflict.

This shrewd plan was thwarted by Saudi Arabia’s unexpected reaction, which clearly stated: we do not accept that Hezbollah acts and we pay the price. We will not do Iran’s work for her. We are with Lebanon, the country and its people, but we are not with a Lebanon dressed in Hezbollah or Iran’s colors.

I am also critical of the position of some Shiaa intellectuals in Saudi Arabia, as they adopted different views to those of their government. They condemned what they referred to as the “Arab silence” and the lack of support for the resistance (Hezbollah). They accused Saudi Arabia of treason and dissociated themselves from its policies. It is no secret that they only spoke after being instructed to do so.

The war against increasing Iranian influence is not a war against the Shia but against Iranian supremacy. This is why it is pointless to speak along sectarian lines. Reality, however, is somewhat different. We are living in an age of sectarian polarization between the Shiaa and the Sunni communities. A previous statement by the Salafi current in Saudi Arabia even called for restricting support in Iraq to the Sunni population only! I have long spoken about this purulent sectarianism on both sides, but it seems no one is listening!

Given that it is in Iran’s interest to expand its control on the entire Shiaa Islamic world, it is therefore interfering in the Arab world’s principal issue, Palestine and the fight against Israel. It planned to become the dominant force in the Muslim world and to impose its own agenda, before Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab countries decide they have had enough and opposed this strategy.

The problem is that, at present, the smoke is obscuring the view and the sound of bombing is strangling thought. The yearning to fight Israel is concealing other dangers, different to Israel’s “elemental” threat.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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