by Dr. Ephraim Herrera
The Shiites, backed by the West, will not stop fighting Islamic State and Nusra Front, while the Sunnis continue to support them.
The cease-fire agreement in Syria, arranged by the United States and Russia, which the Damascus regime this week said it is prepared to accept, is being seen by many as a positive step. The optimists, however, are ignoring one of the main reasons for this war: the conflict between Shiites and Sunnis.
Sunnis represent some 85% of Muslims in the world, while only about 15% of Muslims are Shiites. The West, by standing firmly alongside the Shiites, is betting on the minority while disregarding the overwhelming majority. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the nuclear deal between Shiite Iran and Western powers, not to mention Russia's unwavering support for the regime of President Bashar Assad and his Iranian patron.
The Sunni states, chief among them Saudi Arabia, feel the West has betrayed them and consider Iran, justifiably, an existential threat. To be sure, the vision of the ayatollahs is first to spread the rule of Shiite Islam across the Muslim world, and then the globe. Even efforts by prominent Sunni clerics to intercede, among them Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, have proved unsuccessful and failed to restrain Iranian ambitions.
The Sunni world cannot under any circumstances come to terms with Iran's attempt to stretch its sphere of influence from Yemen to Lebanon. Saudi Arabia has recently taken a series of steps to that effect: After Hezbollah lambasted the kingdom, the Saudis rescinded their multi-billion-dollar military aid package to Lebanon. It also brazenly executed a Shiite leader who openly challenged the government. The Iranians, in turn, torched the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, which the Saudis and several other Sunni states retaliated to by severing diplomatic ties with Iran.
The Saudis have also formed a Sunni coalition to fight the Shiites in Yemen.
On the war in Syria, the Saudi foreign minister declared that the Assad regime needs to be toppled by force, and that rebel forces should be armed with surface-to-air missiles. The Islamic State group and the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front, which control a considerable portion of the country, are not part of the cease-fire agreement. They see the Shiites as infidels who need to be annihilated. Just this week Islamic State operatives murdered over 150 people around Damascus. One of the jihadi group's publication described Shiites as "Jews who entered Islam to spread their deception," and as heretics who should be killed by religious decree. There is no question that they will continue fighting the Shiites and Alawites in Syria.
The Shiites, backed by the West, will try to destroy Islamic State and the Nusra Front, while the Sunni states will continue to support these groups. After all, they are the only obstacle on the ground standing between the ayatollah regime and its ambitions. Like those preceding it, it appears the current cease-fire agreement has little chance of succeeding.
Dr. Ephraim Herrera is the author of "Jihad -- Fundamentals and Fundamentalism."
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