‘Islamic unity’ and ‘liberating Palestine’ in Iranian terms

Eyad Abu Shakra

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I listened closely to the press conference held in Cairo yesterday by Iran’s assistant foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian. I examined its content and came up with the conclusion that the crisis of trust between Iran and the largest segment in the Arab nation has really gone beyond the phase of misunderstanding.

When the winds of the Arab Spring blew… Arab regimes whose Western “friendships” weakened their credibility, even in Western capitals, began to crumble and fall.

Eyad Abu Shakra

Tehran, in fact, has built its strategy on what it considers to be areas of historical influence or areas of future influence on two attractive slogans which are beyond debate. The first is Islamic unity, and the second is the liberation of Palestine.

Under the first slogan, Iran has sought to extend its political and cultural influence, social and relief services and generous investments in many Islamic countries and organizations. Under the second it has engaged itself in political, security and also financial relations with Arabist and Islamist regimes and organizations. The extent of how wise it was to gain from these relations or at least neutralize them is becoming clear now.

The winds of the Arab Spring

When the winds of the Arab Spring blew Tehran, which claims to be the regional bastion confronting Western domination, it felt that its investments began to yield results. Arab regimes whose Western “friendships” weakened their credibility, even in Western capitals, began to crumble and fall.

But Arab change came as a result of domestic reasons. It came about from popular suffering which security regimes like those of Tunisia and Egypt dealt with in the only way they mastered for decades, that is suppression. Since the reasons for this change were local and were linked to livelihood issues, it was unlikely that Qaddafi’s rule in Libya and Hafez and then Bashar al-Assad’s in Syria would be able to continue bluffing their people with empty revolutionary rhetoric and slogans. The Libyan and the Syrian people were well aware that terms like “the revolution,” “the people,” “socialism” and “confronting imperialism” were simply meaningless in Tripoli and Damascus.

The Iranian project

The details of the Iranian project’s dimensions revealed themselves with the turn of events in Syria.

Early signs of the Iranian project were, becoming evident in the aftermath of the American occupation of Iraq - the fruit of the direct planning by the “neo-conservatives” in the Pentagon and their lobbies in the Congress. As soon as the invading troops controlled Iraq, certain Iraqi leaders who had sought refuge in Iran and Western Europe began returning to occupied Iraq.

Then in 2006, after Hezbollah’s war with Israel, which erupted after the abduction of two Israeli soldiers from land inside the Blue Line marking the Lebanese – Israeli borders, Hezbollah – founded and controlled by Iran - agreed to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 which stipulates preventing an armed presence south of the Litani River. Thus, Hezbollah, and behind it Tehran, agreed to a demilitarized safe zone in south Lebanon; which means that it is no more possible “to resist” Israel. Then, Hezbollah replaced the south Lebanon front with another front that it opened in Beirut and Mount Lebanon in 2008. Later, it opened yet other fronts in Aarsal (north of Beqaa) and Tripoli, and the situation became more serious after the Syrian revolution erupted two years ago.

Iran’s role in Palestine

Iran’s role in what was happening in Palestine was also pivotal. In coordination and solidarity with Damascus, Iran contributed to solidifying the Palestinian division and separating the Gaza Strip which is under the rule of the Hamas Movement from the Fatah-led West Bank. Later, in Gaza, it deepened divisions between the “Ikhwani” (i.e. Muslim Brotherhood) Hamas and those who directly support Tehran.

The Syrian revolution in fact strained the relations within what was a “united resistance line”. After Assad’s regime launched its war which has killing more than 100,000 dead people, and after it attempted to picture the popular revolution as a “takfiri fundamentalist conspiracy”, it was no longer possible for prominent Islamist Palestinian leaders to stay in Damascus; an Arab capital slaughtering Islamists.

An Absurd formula

How can Damascus agree that Islamists should run a “future Palestine” but fight them if they seek power in Syria? In brief, this absurd formula has become clear for all Palestinians, particularly Islamists in their ranks.

In Egypt, the Iranian game is bigger and more sinister. There, the “Ikhwani” President Mohammed Mursi feels he has to repay Iran for it past support for his Movement. For a few months now, we have witnessed hesitation, confusion and contradictions engulfing Cairo’s policy toward the Syrian issue. We are also witnessing Tehran betting on Mursi’s rejection of taking any serious measure to stop its direct involvement in Syria. There is also the Iran’s bet on Mursi ensuring that the door is wide open for its infiltration of Egypt through tourism, investment and religious dialogue. This, is of course, adds to Tehran’s keenness to besiege the Syrian revolution from Iraq and Lebanon and making use of the ambiguous stances held by Jordan’s Islamists and some Kurdish groups in Turkey.

Iran’s slogans

Now back to Iran’s two famous slogans.

On the level of “liberating Palestine” it is sufficient to observe the Israeli stance to the “scenario” of domestic strife threatening to tear Syria apart. It is also interesting to read a commentary published by the Ha’artez newspaper last week about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad finding Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu “an unlikely friend.”

As for “Islamic unity” we are witnessing a spectrum of disputes and struggles among Muslims almost everywhere. These disputes would not have emerged if it had not been for Iran’s scheme to exploit Arab blood in Syria, and unprecedented sectarian tension in Iraq and Lebanon, as bargaining chips with Tel Aviv and Washington on its future regional role. Other issues in such on-going bargaining include the dispute between the “Ikhwan” and Salafis in Egypt as well as the Houthis’ war in Yemen.

American poet Maya Angelou once said: “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not yet solved one yet.”

It would be nice if our brothers in Iran decrease their “love” towards us and towards our causes a bit. It would be nice too if they refrain from speaking on our behalf and on the Syrians’ behalf on who fills Syria’s seat at the Arab League.


Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with An-Nahar newspaper in Lebanon. Joned Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances

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