Arab nations have long been under pressure from the rest of the world to take a leading role in fighting acts of terror committed by Arabs. Now a Saudi-led coalition of 34 Arab and Muslim nations has been assembled to do just that, opening another key front in the war on terror.
But the Arab offensive on terror has become something else as well: Iran’s worst nightmare.
Driven by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1373, enacted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the U.S., Arab states have taken serious measures against global ideological terror emanating from one of the world’s most prodigious state sponsors — Iran.
Even when the Obama administration showed a lack of cooperation — or interest — in the region, the Gulf Cooperation Council and Arab leaders made the right decision. It set out to upend terrorists and didn’t limit the battle to Iran’s proxies in the Middle East, which include Hezbollah (Lebanon), Houthis (Yemen) and groups in Bahrain and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia.
First some history. The war on Iraq led to an Iranian triumph. It was a reverse application of Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History.” Instead of celebrating the final step of political evolution, the aftermath of the toppling of the Baath regime led to a completely opposite understanding of democracy: theocratic intolerance.
Democracy was thus seen by the Iranian regime and its proxies as a method to reach power in order to realize the dream of wilayat al faqih (mandate of the jurist). The Iraqi model was to be applied elsewhere. In 2011, an Iran-sponsored uprising was staged in Bahrain. The theocratic movement failed, and the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Peninsula Shield defense force entered the capital city of Manama in order to save Bahrain from going back to the Medieval ages.
Hezbollah in Lebanon is another story. The most operational Iranian proxy in the region has been training militants and terror cells in the Arabian Gulf region for years. It has been a destabilizing, non-state actor in the region where it initiated a number of conflicts against Western powers, in addition to its sectarian war in Syria.
In Iraq, on the other hand, the Al-Da’awa party has been directly reinforced by the Iranian regime. It openly supported sectarian militias and eventually led to the failure of the Iraqi state where it did nothing to prevent the rise of ISIL after the isolation of Sunnis in the north of the country.
The Iranian support of Houthis in Yemen is also an important chapter in the sectarian trauma. The ouster of the Yemeni government by the intolerant militia led to instability in the region and would have been an imminent threat to international peace and security had Saudi-led forces not intervened a year ago, leading to recent prisoner exchanges and peace talks. This is a clear victory for the Arab-led campaign against Iranian-supported terror and a template for united Arab actions going forward. More victories will follow and terrorism, we can only hope, will be defeated.
Iran always had territorial ambitions in the Gulf region. Its invasion of the three Emirati islands in the early 1970s symbolizes its attitude of aggression. This continued in Bahrain through the exploitation of the Shiite population, which started in 1981 with a failed coup attempt by a number of Iranian operatives.
Ayatollah Khomeini’s dream of exporting the “Islamic Revolution” was only delayed by the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. The 2011 uprising in Bahrain showed that the main objective behind the predominately Shiite insurgency was to achieve the dream of the late spiritual leader. The calls for human rights and democracy were only a means to reach the ultimate spiritual and philosophical goals of Khomeini. The Islamic Revolution was to surf on the waves of the Arab Spring.
But that stops now. The Saudi-led Arab and Muslim war on terror will end the twin Iranian tides of terror and intolerance and make the region and the world safer for people of all faiths.
• Khalifa Ali Alfadhel is an assistant professor of international law at the University of Bahrain and a board member of the Bahrain Institute for Political Development.