by Dr. Ronen Yitzhak
The Arab League's declaration of Hezbollah as a terrorist entity have turned up the flame of the Sunni-Shiite power struggles in the Arab-Muslim world.
The Arab League foreign ministers' declaration this past weekend that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization is an important step in the war against that group being waged by the Gulf states over its involvement in the Syrian civil war, as they stated it. But the declaration was actually intended to check the terrorist group's massive influence in the Middle East and the world at large. Hezbollah, backed by Iran, limits the Sunni Gulf states' freedom of operation and increases Shiite influence in the Middle East.
Hezbollah operates like an octopus. It isn't fighting in Syria alone; it's involved in the war in Yemen, side by side with the Shiite Houthi rebels who are battling the Sunni Arab coalition. Hezbollah is undermining the regimes in other Sunni countries, as well, and Israel's Shin Bet security agency recently exposed efforts by Hezbollah to organize terror cells in Judea and Samaria. Western intelligence officials believe that Hezbollah has also established terrorist networks throughout Europe and the Americas, particularly Latin America. These cells might still be "sleepers" but they are supposed to follow Hezbollah's instructions when it issues an order, as the bombing at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and the bombing of the Jewish community center there two years later proved.
So it appears that declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organization was expected given its military operations against the Sunni Gulf states, its involvement in Syria, and its strong alliance with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a regime that the Gulf states wanted to oust. After it was proven that the Assad regime was stable and would remain in existence under the auspices of Russia and Iran, and they weren't capable of toppling it, it was only a matter of time before the Gulf states made a move against the organization -- a move seen as legitimate because of its global involvement with terrorism. The European Union, however, considers only the military wing of Hezbollah a terrorist organization and not the group itself, whereas the U.S. -- the Gulf states' close ally -- put both branches of Hezbollah (military and political) on a list of international terrorist organizations years ago. The current assessment is that the Arab League's announcement was intended to pressure the EU to take similar action against the group.
Closer ties between Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the recent heightened cooperation between the Sunni Gulf states made the move possible. It's no coincidence that it was done in a single day, after veteran Egyptian diplomat Ahmed Aboul Gheit was elected secretary-general of the Arab League. Gheit served as the Egyptian foreign minister at the end of the term of former President Hosni Mubarak, and had a close-up look at Iran and Hezbollah's subversive activity in Egypt at the time -- activity whose goal was to execute terrorist attacks and sow the seeds of political chaos.
The Arab League's decision undoubtedly means that the flames of the power struggles in the Arab-Muslim world have been turned up and that the rift between the Gulf states and Hezbollah's patron, Iran, will persist. Remember, about three months ago Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic relations with Iran, and now -- along with other Sunni states -- is taking diplomatic action against Lebanon, seeking to hobble Hezbollah. Some Gulf states have already prohibited the dissemination of Shiite propaganda within their borders. But beyond that, the operative steps the Gulf states will take after the declaration could hurt its organizational infrastructure, its fundraising and freedom of action, throughout the Arab world.
Nevertheless, it appears that Hezbollah won't neglect the war in Syria and keep cooperating with Iran and the Assad regime. But it's not impossible that more than three decades after its founding and after enjoying immense popularity in the Arab world as a result of its war against Israel, Hezbollah might find itself facing a challenge that will affect not only its military-terrorist future, but also its image -- the point where its popularity could plummet, a process that began with its intervention in Syria and could go on in the years to come.
Dr. Ronen Yitzhak is head of the Middle East Studies Department at Western Galilee College.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.