Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Some Arab leaders are critical of Hezbollah

CFR provides its usual timely and link-filled report on events in ME. Lots to look at, but this jumps out at me: Some Sunni governments—those of Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia—are increasingly wary of the growing influence of Iran, and are blaming Hezbollah for its role in starting the conflict, a rare move (NYT).

It is nearly unheard of for Arab officials to chastise an Arab group engaged in conflict with Israel, especially as images of destruction by Israeli warplanes are beamed into Arab living rooms. Normally under such circumstances, Arabs are not blamed, and condemnations of Israel are routine. But the willingness of those governments to defy public opinion in their own countries underscores a shift that is prompted by the growing influence of Iran and Shiite Muslims in Iraq and across the region.
“For the first time ever, open criticism was heard from countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan against the unilateral actions carried out by radical organizations, especially Hezbollah of Lebanon,” wrote Mr. Seniora, who favors coexistence with Israel and opposes radical Islam. “It became clear and beyond doubt that the most important Arab countries did not allow their emotions to rule their judgment.”

One reason this tidbit appeals to me is that it illustrates an unappreciated subtext of ME tensions, the conflict between Israel and "Arabs." Most Americans do not discern the difference between Arabs and Muslims. This is a serious ignorance that must rub a good many people from that part of the world the wrong way. Iran may be described as Muslim but not Arab. With Iran emerging as the leading player on this stage, it is important to recognize and respect differences among Muslims.

As for Lebanon, I do not think of it as an "Arab" country at all. There are Arabs there, of course, but Lebanon is one of the most diverse (and free, by the way) countries in the Levant. Thousands of people are being evacuated from Lebanon at the moment, mostly visitors and tourists, nearly all to non-Arab countries. (Presuming that many thousands escaping via Syria are on their way elsewhere...)

And let's not forget the historic tension between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. When (mostly Sunni) Arab leaders are willing to be critical of the (mostly Shiite) Hezbollah attacks on Israel, supported by their (entirely Shiite) Iranian and (partly Shiite) Syrian godfathers, something noteworthy is happening.

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