The proclamation by a Saudi minister that Lebanon had issued a de facto ‘declaration of war’ on their nation, and that Iran-backed, Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah was behind the attack, is being officially supported by the Israeli government. A hectic weekend has given way to the root of a seemingly impending conflict which essentially pits Israel and the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia against Iran and its proxy Shia militant groups looking to gain a greater foothold in the region.
The ideological and territorial battles between Saudi Arabia, Iran, and their respective allies is not new. This broad struggle has most often overshadowed and dictated the stability and safety of religious minority groups in the Middle East, including but not limited to Israeli Jews. The divide between differing beliefs of Sunnis and Shiite Muslims can be dated back to the Battle of Siffin in May of the year 657, one conflict within the first Muslim civil war. Though there is an estimated 9% minority population of Sunnis in Iran, and an approximate Shiite minority of 10-15% in Saudi Arabia, Twelver Shia Islam is the official state religion of Iran, while Sunni Islam is the Saudi state religion. The battles between these not-dissimilar sects of Islam are intense, and the efforts to spread each ideology throughout the Middle East is near-constant.
Since March 2015, Yemen has served as ground zero for the interminable Sunni-Shia war. The poor nation which accounts for half of the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula is estimated to be populated by 65% Sunnis and 35% Shia, with some miniscule minority groups as well. Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi is backed by Saudi Arabia in a war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who are Shiite Muslims. Iran and Saudi Arabia tend to fund other, poorer people to inflict and absorb bloodshed in the name of their respective Islamic sects, rarely doing the dirty work themselves. The ongoing conflict in Yemen is no exception, and now, along with Lebanon, it’s at the center of what will likely be greater conflict in the region.
Though Lebanon is fairly evenly demographically split between Sunni and Shia Muslims, the Shiite, Iran-aligned terror group Hezbollah originated in Lebanon, and has continued to pose a threat to both Saudi Arabia and Israel with armaments supplied by Iran. Saudi Arabia banned its citizens from traveling from Lebanon in early 2016, seeing the nation as an agent of “Iranian aggression”. As of today, it has ordered all Saudi citizens in Lebanon to return to the Kingdom of Saud. The Saudis claim to have intercepted a ballistic missile shot from Yemen which it associated with Hezbollah, declaring a day later that it was an “act of war” by Lebanon against Saudi Arabia. But it is not Hezbollah specifically, but Houthi rebels who have vowed further attacks against Saudi Arabia. Essentially, it comes down to Sunni versus Shia, and the Shiite Houthis and Hezbollah are both seen as extensions of Iran, the greates threat to Saudi Arabia’s security.
Many do not believe that Lebanon has in fact declared war on Saudi Arabia. It seems more likely that the Saudis see the heightened and growing influence of Hezbollah throughout the Middle East, specifically in Syria, as a threat that must be met with force. And, according to a leaked ‘secret’ cable, the Israelis have aligned themselves completely with the Saudis in a rare show of cooperation. This came to light after the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a duel citizen of Lebanon and Saudi Arabia who said he feared an assassination attempt.
According to Israeli Channel 10, the cable, translated from Hebrew, instructed Israeli ambassadors worldwide to support and echo the message of the Saudi Kingdom. Such cooperation falls in line with the recent vocalization of alliance between the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel against Iran and its proxy forces and allies. Though unspoken, the Saudi and Israeli’s common goal of limiting and scaling back Iranian influence in the region is well-known. Israeli reporter Barak Ravid Tweeted the most essential aspects of the leaked cable:
- ‘‘I published on channel 10 a cable sent to Israeli diplomats asking to lobby for Saudis/Harir and against Hezbollah. The cable sent from the MFA in Jerusalem [Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs] to all Israeli embassies toes the Saudi line regarding the Hariri resignation.
- The Israeli diplomats were instructed to demarche their host governments over the domestic political situation in Lebanon - a very rare move.
- The cable said: "You need to stress that the Hariri resignation shows how dangerous Iran and Hezbollah are for Lebanon's security."
- "Hariri's resignation proves wrong the argument that Hezbollah participation in the government stabilizes Lebanon," the cable added.
- The cable instructed Israeli diplomats to support Saudi Arabia over its war with the Houthis in Yemen. The cable also stressed: "The missile launch by the Houthis towards Riyadh calls for applying more pressure on Iran & Hezbollah."’ (Zero Hedge)
It appears that arms purchases by Saudi Arabia from the United States have a more imminent use than many may have anticipated. Israel, always prepared for military escalation in the region, appears on board with the plan: put the ever-ambitious Iran back in its place.