September 4, 2006


Saudi bid for influence shattered (Mahan Abedin, 9/02/06, Asia Times)

One of the more important long-term consequences of the war in Lebanon is its potential impact on the relationship between Salafi-jihadism and Hezbollah.

The Salafis (as opposed to the Salafi-jihadi movement, of which al-Qaeda is a part) have already scored an own-goal by caving in to Saudi pressure to issue fatwas against Hezbollah. Both Abdullah bin Jabreen and Hamid al-Ali (a Kuwaiti-based Salafi cleric) issued fatwas repeating the usual insults and accusations against Shi'ites, namely that they are rafida (rejectors) and stand with the enemies of Islam. The absurdity of this position (at a time when Hezbollah is engaged in a decisive conflict with Israel) is a reflection of Saudi desperation, and not a knee-jerk reaction by Wahhabis.

The fatwas of Jabreen and Ali have reinforced Iranian propaganda that the Salafi-jihadi movement in general (and al-Qaeda in particular) are aligned with US and Israeli interests. Indeed, the imagery is damning: while the Salafi-jihadis slaughter defenseless Shi'ite laborers in Iraq, Hezbollah successfully tackles the Israel Defense Forces, arguably one of the most powerful military forces in the world. [...]

While it is difficult to determine to what extent Salafi-jihadis believe their own propaganda, it is clear that they have been taken aback by the war in Lebanon. The inability of the jihadis to attack Israel is a serious disadvantage. The late Jordanian leader of the Salafi-jihadi movement in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, alluded to it immediately before his death, claiming that Hezbollah is a "shield" for Israel.

While the Salafi-jihadis are hoping for an outright Israeli military victory, they stand to lose in the long term, as Hezbollah's prestige and influence have been boosted by its single-minded resistance against overwhelming Israeli force.

Equally worrying for the Salafi-jihadis is the broader resurgence of Iranian-style Islamism. This has been most evident in Iran itself, where the conflict has boosted hardcore ideological forces in the Islamic Republic and revived the "Hezbollahi" spirit that had been dormant since the late 1980s.

But arguably the biggest loser is the House of Saud.

Already its controversial stance against Hezbollah has divided opinion in the kingdom. The most important dissenter is Sheikh Salman al-Auda, a former Salafi hardliner, who has come out in support of Hezbollah. More broadly, there is significant grassroots support for Hezbollah, which is seen (as it is seen in other Arab countries) as the only effective tool against Israeli hegemony.

In the final analysis, the Lebanon war has not only imperiled 15 years of Saudi investments, but once again exposed the limitations of the kingdom's foreign policy. More ominously for al-Saud, it has sharply divided opinion in the country and further discredited the official Wahhabi ulema.

The Saudis are hardly alone in not understanding the war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 4, 2006 7:35 PM

I doubt I understand it correctly. Beginning with who actually came out ahead? Does anyone know if Hezbolla got a scratch on the arm or crushed lips and a broken nose, or worse?

Politically, or propaganda wise they seem to be top dog, but is that true militarily?

Posted by: Tom Wall at September 4, 2006 8:04 PM

Militarily doesn't matter. They were never a threat to Israel (or anyone else) and weren't made one. Politically they were made popular even in non-Shi'a portions of Lebanon and the Middle East. but that's going to be fleeting. All that matters is they're going to head a state in Southern Lebanon at the end of all this rigamarole and the faster you cut to the chase the better for all concerned.

Posted by: oj at September 4, 2006 8:17 PM

Remember, you read it at the Brothers Judd first.

And if you need further proof....

Posted by: Barry Meislin at September 5, 2006 1:51 AM