Adventurism versus submission
Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are less than pleased about the sudden rise in the profile of Hizbullah, mainly for reasons of domestic expediency, writes Amr Hamzawy*
In a surprising move, the government of Saudi Arabia publicly blamed Hizbullah for the escalation between Lebanon and Israel describing its actions as reckless. Egypt and Jordan followed suit accusing Hizbullah and its regional allies of irresponsible political adventurism that undermines Arab national interests. Although this position is not shared by a majority of Arab governments, it represents in three different ways a significant point of departure in regional politics.
First of all, it isolates the Syrian Baath regime from its traditional allies in the Arab world, i.e. Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Both countries have acted in the aftermath of Rafik Al-Hariri's assassination to help Syria avoid international sanctions and mediated between Damascus and different Western capitals. So far the strategic tenet of Saudi and Egyptian diplomacy with regard to Syria has been to stabilise the regime and press it to stop interfering in Lebanese domestic politics. However, the fact that the Baath regime has been less responsive to Saudi and Egyptian demands over recent months has resulted in serious tensions between Syria and the Riyadh-Cairo alignment. The current confrontation between Hizbullah and Israel deepens those tensions dramatically. The Saudi and Egyptian governments seem to believe that Hizbullah acts today to a significant extent upon Syrian requests and in a way that threatens Lebanese national interests. The Baath regime has become too rouge a partner for Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Along with Jordan, they are departing from their alliance with Syria, which has been a defining component of Middle Eastern politics since the 1990s.
Second, the anti-Hizbullah position taken by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan mirrors the real fears felt among some Arab governments with regard to the growing Iranian influence in the region. Against the background of the rise to power of pro-Iranian Shia groups in Iraq, King Abdullah of Jordan has repeatedly warned of the emergence of "Shia crescent" in the Middle East. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal recently criticised the Bush administration for destroying Iraq and letting Iran dominate its political landscape. President Mubarak, in a widely debated statement a few months ago, accused Shia communities in the Arab world of prioritising their religious allegiance to Iran over the bond of nationalism in their countries. Iranian nuclear ambitions have added to Arab fears, especially in the Gulf. For the Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian governments, Hizbullah is, beside its pro-Syrian attitude, a client of the Iranian regime that advances Iran's destabilising agenda in the Middle East and should therefore be contained. Significantly enough, Saudi Arabia and Egypt declared for the first time in the Arab League meeting on 15 July their endorsement of disarming Hizbullah based on the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1559.
Third, especially in the case of Egypt and Jordan, accusing Hizbullah of irresponsible political adventurism has a domestic background. Hizbullah is not simply a Shia-based group active in the sectarian Lebanese setting. It is also an Islamist movement with ties to other Islamists operating in various Arab countries. Both the Egyptian and Jordanian governments have grown fearful of the rise of Islamist movements to power after Hamas's election victory in Palestine and the Muslim Brotherhood's electoral gains in Egypt. Their strategic interest in containing Hizbullah -- and for that matter Hamas -- feeds on the ongoing domestic conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Action Front respectively. The challenge Islamist movements poses to some Arab governments is becoming a defining feature of the latter's regional behaviour.
* The writer is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC.