December 12, 2017

KNOWING YOUR ALLIES:

Iran Thrives in the Levant on Weakened States Threatened by Sunni Radicalism (Fabrice Balanche, December 12, 2017, The Caravan)

The announced defeat of the Syrian rebellion and the Islamic State is favoring the extension of Iranian influence in the Levant. The Iranian corridor between Beirut and Tehran via Baghdad and Damascus is now a reality. Territorial continuity was achieved symbolically at the end of May 2017, when Iranian-funded Shia militias joined on both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border north of al-Tanf. In Iraq, Iranian allies Syria and Lebanon dominate; people support them out of fear, default, or sympathy. If the West wants to fight against the Islamic Republic's influence in the Levant, it must understand the root causes pushing more and more Lebanese Christians, Iraqi Shiites, and Syrian Sunni Arabs into the Iranian camp. [...]

Whenever a Sunni country proclaims itself the defender of the Palestinian cause--as Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser or Iraq under Saddam Hussein--Iran can exploit it to conquer the Arab street. As long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persists, the congenital anti-Israeli feeling of the Ayatollah's regime will exert a power of attraction over Sunni Arabs. After the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah was the most popular personality in the Arab world. In Syria, a few thousand Sunnis even converted to Shiism. Therefore, this parameter should always be taken into consideration, even if it is not the main one.

However, the real cause of Iran's rise in the Levant is sectarian and religious. Paradoxically,  theocratic Iran became the protector of non-Sunnis and even secular Sunnis against jihadism.

The main fear of Christians and Shiites in the Levant is to be overwhelmed by Sunni Islam. Although the Sunnis are a minority in Lebanon and Iraq, they consider themselves the only legitimate community to exercise power, since they belong to the majority in the Arab and Muslim world. The concept of minority-majority needs to be assessed throughout the Middle East to understand the fear that drives non-Sunnis and the sense of superiority that drives Sunnis. The ethnic criterion introduces more complexity in the case of the Kurds. Although Kurds are mostly Sunnis in Syria and Iraq, they were marginalized by the Arab Sunnis, too.

Posted by at December 12, 2017 5:53 AM

  

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