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The Sh’ia/Sunni Divide Heats Up

It looks like the Sh’ia/Sunni divide (also the Arab/Persian divide) is heating up:

Slowly but surely, Arab columnists have started filing story after story critical of Iran’s role in the region. That became strikingly clear when prime coverage was given to the death of General Hisham Sabah al-Fakhri, a decorated officer from Saddam Hussein’s army, who made a reputation for himself for fighting the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988).

He was treated as a celebrated Iraqi, although nothing had been said of him since he fled the violence in Iraq and took up residence in Syria in 2003. He is now hailed in several Arab dailies as a war hero. Last week, veteran Palestinian journalist Jihad al-Khazen wrote in the Saudi daily al-Hayat, “I call on Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to seriously strive [at obtaining] nuclear abilities.”

He added that they should embark “immediately” on a nuclear program, “in action not just words, because Arab citizens should not remain under the mercy of the nuclear Israeli arsenal, when Iran’s arsenal is forthcoming”. The column adds further proof to just how afraid certain powers are in the Arab world of a nuclear-armed Iran. Khazen wrapped up, “Iran strives to have a nuclear weapon no matter how strongly it denies that.”

Americans–left and right–tend to look at the Middle East solely in terms of a U.S. vs. Iran or Israel vs. Iran divide. But the biggest divide in the Middle East is this one. As I said more than three years ago:

In the meanwhile, we are seeing a setup for a major Sunni-Sh’ia rivalry across the Gulf. Having the great forces of Islam more worried about each other than us is a potential boon for the West, but until we find the best way to make the transition to that state, any thought of using that to the West’s advantage will remain a dream.


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