This weblog entry offers news on the pattern I noted five months ago at "The Middle Eastern Cold War," of an Iranian-led revolutionary bloc vs. a Saudi-Egyptian led status-quo bloc.
Yemen: Iranian backed Shi'i forces in northern Yemen, called the Huthis (or Houthis) seized a border town in Saudi Arabia, Jabal Dukan, provoking the Saudi military to retake it by force, at the cost of lives on both sides. (November 9, 2009) Feb. 11, 2013 update: The Yemeni hotspot of the Middle East's cold war continues. For example, citing a report today from the Meir Yamit Intelligence and Terrorism Center: "On January 23, 2013, the Yemeni coast guard and security services intercepted the Jihan 1, a ship carrying weapons, explosives and military equipment, some of it manufactured in Iran. The ship was en route from Iran and its cargo was intended for delivery to the Houthi Shi'ite rebels in northern Yemen."
Gaza: The Turkish government helped organize a "Free Gaza" flotilla whose passengers' surprise use of violence caught the Israel Defense Forces unprepared and much discredited Israel. (May 31, 2010). June 13, 2010 update: Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has come out against lifting the naval blocade on Gaza, thus aligning himself with Israel and against Hamas.
Lebanon: "Saudi plan for anti-Hezbollah force revealed" by WikiLeaks. According to a U.S. diplomatic cable, Riyadh in May 2008 proposed establishing a Sunni force in Lebanon to fight Iranian-supported Hezbollah. (December 8, 2010)
Egypt: Egyptian strongman Husni Mubarak referred to Iranian influence as "spreading like a cancer" across Arabic-speaking countries in a conversation revealed by the WikiLeaks cache.
President Mubarak has made it clear that he sees Iran as Egypt's — and the region's — primary strategic threat. His already dangerous neighborhood, he has stressed, has only become more so since the fall of Saddam, who, as nasty as he was, nevertheless stood as a wall against Iran, according to Mubarak. He now sees Tehran's hand moving with ease throughout the region, 'from the Gulf to Morocco,' as he told a recent congressional delegation.
The cable goes on to note that "Mubarak's focus on the Iranian threat differs somewhat from ours":
While he will readily admit that the Iranian nuclear program is a strategic and existential threat to Egypt and the region, he sees that threat as relatively "long term." What has seized his immediate attention are Iran's non-nuclear destabilizing actions such as support for HAMAS, media attacks, weapons and illicit funds smuggling, all of which add up in his mind to 'Iranian influence spreading like a cancer from the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council countries] to Morocco.
(December 15, 2010)
Overview: Lee Smith looks at the implications of Hamas splitting off from the Syrian regime in "The Road From Damascus" and concludes that "there is … a regionwide war under way: Sunni vs. Shia." (February 29, 2012)
Muslim Brotherhood: A Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated organization, the Cordoba Foundation of London, has published a small bi-lingual booklet, Arab and Muslim National Security: Debating the Iranian Dimension, mostly made up of "key thoughts and ideas from the discussion in chronological order." No. 31 of those key thoughts reads: "Prior to the Syrian revolution, there was no consensus on what constitutes the greatest threat to our national security, but it has since become evident that the Iranian threat is much bigger than American and Israeli threats." (The Arabic version of this point contains more detail but reaches the same conclusion.) (January 11, 2013)
Overview: Barry Rubin writes:
The Arab-Israeli conflict has been largely replaced by the Sunni Muslim-Shia Muslim conflict as the Middle East's featured battle. … By Islamizing politics to a greater degree, the victories of the (Sunni) Muslim Brotherhood group have deepened the Sunni-Shia battle. And, of course, on the other side, Iran, as leader of the Shia bloc, has been doing so, too, though its ambition was to be the leader of all Middle East Muslims. …
Today, aside from the undoubtedly important nuclear weapons' issue, the main strategic threat in the Middle East is Sunni Islamism. Why? Simple. Iran cannot expand its influence successfully into Sunni Muslim majority areas yet the Arab world is overwhelmingly Sunni. Iran cannot win. Only Sunni Islamism can generate new dictatorships, repression, and conventional wars.
Comment: Interesting conclusion and an additional reason to "Support Assad." (April 15, 2013)
Tripartite cold war: Jonathan Spyer, a Middle East Forum fellow, argues convincingly that the bilateral cold war led by the Iranians and Saudis has gone three-way with the emergence of Qataris and the Muslim Brotherhood:
three power blocs currently dominate the Middle East — the Iran-led Shia group, a rival emergent Cairo-Riyadh axis leading a group of smaller Sunni states, and a smaller, much weaker Qatar-Muslim Brotherhood alliance. Their competition is set to dominate regional affairs in the period opening up.
(March 14, 2014)
Yemen: With the start of a Saudi-led operation against the Houthis in Yemen, today is the day when the Middle East cold war went hot. Accordingly, I am closing this weblog entry. (March 26, 2015)