Παρασκευή, 11 Δεκεμβρίου 2015
Image by European External Action Service
The participation of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad-Zarif in the Vienna talks in October is a reluctant US-Saudi recognition of Iran’s importance in any future roadmap for the Syrian crisis. Since the Islamic revolution of 1979, and especially after the outbreak of popular protests in the Arab world, the two regional powers along the Persian Gulf have been jostling for influence and domination in Bahrain, Yemen and, above all, Syria. The move also signals a belated Saudi-Western recognition of the Iranian role and influence in resolving the four-year old crisis. With over 200,000 deaths the crisis has emerged as the witnessed the largest destruction and human suffering since the Iran-Iraq war.
There isn’t one war, the West versus Isis. Not even after last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris. There are layers of Middle Eastern conflicts, all linked to international intervention, of which the most intractable are heightened by the Sunni-Shia divide.
The Iranian revolution of 1979 established the world’s first officially Islamic regime, but being exclusively Shia, it resurrected memories of the age-old conflict between Sunni and Shia. On coming to power, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini demanded that the Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina be managed collectively. In Saudi Arabia this demand was seen as an intolerable challenge. (A young Sunni jihadist, Khaled Kelkal, involved in bombings in France in 1995, said he thought “Shiism was invented by the Jews to divide Islam” (1).) Violence against Shia by Saudi Wahhabis is nothing new: in 1802 the sack of Karbala (now in Iraq) led to the destruction of Shia shrines and tombs including that of the Prophet’s son-in-law Hussein, and the killing of many of the city’s inhabitants.