Iran’s Effect on the Palestinians…
For the past few weeks I’ve been attending a lecture series at the University of Helsinki on the Middle East.
This comes as I prepare to return to Israel and Jordan in later December. Though I will be working on a number of stories…I am curious to talk with people there about something that came up again and again in the lecture series: the possibility of a “Shia corridor” being created as Iran grows as a regional power. By invading Iraq, the US has set loose the country’s majority Shia population. Neighboring Iraq, Iran is already aligned with Hezbollah, another Shia force, and seeks to export it’s version of Islam abroad.
According to the participants in the lecture series, this has the Sunni leaders in the Middle East…in countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia…very worried.
I touched on this subject in an article on the Lebanese-Israeli conflict this past summer:
Ahmadinejad’s continuation of power means that Iran will continue to support Hezbollah in much the same way as the US supports Israel, perpetuating a cycle of violence that has become so deadly in the Middle East. Iran, with its strong armed forces, large population, and hold on a tenth of the world’s oil is the most powerful country in the Middle East. Perhaps surprisingly, it has actually benefitted from the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan which removed hostile regimes from it’s doorstep. Their replacement with a heavy US presence has encouraged Iran to continue its cultivation of relationships with Syria and other Shiite allies throughout the region.
As Iran’s power grows, it is being seen with increasing wariness not just from Israel, but also from other Arab countries. Sunni Muslims such as those in power in Saudi Arabia see a threat in the possible conversion of their populations as an effect of the growing Shiite power. The schism between Sunnis and Shiites is insurmountable. It is a dispute over who is the rightful heir of Mohammed: Sunnis believe one of his lieutenant’s, Abu-Bakr, was chosen to succeed the prophet while Shiites believe it was his cousin and son in-law, Ali. The short lived civil war in Iraq, which could easily explode again, was a small taste of the conflict possible between Sunnis and Shiites. Perhaps ironically however, it is this internal dispute that may bring some movement to the entrenched Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As the threat of conflict grows there is the potential for Sunni Muslim countries to unite with Israel in alliance against Iran. This has the potential effect of neutralizing the Palestinians, who are Sunni, against Israel.
What I heard in the lecture series (and originally from the Atlantic Monthly) validates this view. Iran’s power, which is not dependent on current President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, though he is seen by some in the Middle East as a kind of defender or hero, will continue to grow. Read this Asia Times article on Iran doing business with Brazil.
To expand on my own thought from the article I published in The Caravan, the Palestinians may be more than “neutralized.” They may be forgotten or even pushed to the side if the Sunni states who have supported them see further cooperation with Israel necessary to their survival. Egypt and Jordan have already signed peace treaties with Israel, though especially Egypt remains active in trying to further the peace process.
I know that Israelis will (as they did in August 2008) talk to me about their fears over the attendance of Iran.
This is something I did not have a chance to ask Palestinians about then. I am curious to know what they have to say…as it is their current predicament is only worsening…