Riyadh aims to pressure Iran at Arab summit
Syria, Palestine to also figure prominently; Qatar crisis will not be discussed
16:17 April 15, 2018
Riyadh: Saudi Arabia’s push for a tough stand against its arch-rival Iran is expected to dominate an Arab League summit on Sunday as regional tensions grow over the wars in Syria and Yemen.
The fate of occupied Jerusalem will also be on the summit’s agenda, as the United States prepares to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to the occupied city after declaring it the capital of Israel.
Saudi Arabia, which is hosting the yearly summit in the Eastern Province city of Dhahran, is likely to seek Arab support to pile the pressure on Iran, analysts say. “The Saudis are going to push for a much harsher stance on Iran — not necessarily on the nuclear dossier per se, but on Iranian influence in the Arab countries, particularly Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen,” said Karim Bitar of the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Affairs.
The Saudis are going to push for a much harsher stance on Iran — not necessarily on the nuclear dossier per se, but on Iranian influence in the Arab countries, particularly Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
Iran’s influence is wielded through a land route of armed parties in the Middle East — the so-called “Shiite crescent” that cuts across the Arab world.
Iran has long been a supporter of Bashar Al Assad and backs Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, whose fighters are deployed in Syria alongside regime forces.
Iran also openly supports the Al Houthi militia in Yemen in their war against the Saudi-backed government.
And in Shiite-dominated Iraq, the Islamic republic backs armed groups and supports the government.
“Saudi Arabia has also reached out to Iraq to try and build ties and tackle militias there,” said Andreas Krieg, assistant professor of defence studies at King’s College London told AFP. “It’s definitely safe to say that Iran is the centrepiece of this summit.”
The summit will be attended by delegations from 21 of the Arab League’s 22-member states. Syria has been suspended from the organisation for seven years over Al Assad’s crackdown on protesters.
It comes as Saudi Arabia on Saturday expressed its full support for US-led strikes on Syrian regime military installations, saying they were a response to “regime crimes” against civilians.
“Saudi Arabia fully supports the strikes launched by the United States, France and Britain against Syria because they represent a response to the regime’s crimes,” a foreign ministry statement said.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have been key backers of Syrian opposition groups fighting Al Assad.
The summit is expected to release a statement on the suspected toxic gas attack, but it remains to be seen whether the Arab League will take any action as well.
Syria serves today as a major pivot between Saudi Arabia and its allies on the one hand, and Iran and Hezbollah on the other.
Each party in the conflict backs opposing sides but all agree that the country’s future cannot be decided solely by the Al Assad regime, whose troops have regained territory with Russia’s support.
“Certain regional powers previously determined to bring down the Syrian regime — particularly Saudi Arabia and Turkey — have now accepted the status quo, that Al Assad is staying,” Bitar said.
“Bashar’s Iranian patrons are also very well aware that their protege cannot run the show on his own and they are starting to accept the premise that they will have to negotiate spheres of influence in Syria territories”.
Not on the table at the summit, according to Krieg, is Qatar, cut off from its Gulf allies over accusations of ties to Iran and support for Islamist extremists. On the eve of the summit, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir confirmed as much, saying a solution for Qatar would be found within the six-state Gulf Cooperation Council.
The summit also comes after 33 Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded at the hands of Israeli occupation forces in mass protests along the Gaza border in recent weeks.
The protests are to continue until mid-May, around the time Washington is to move its embassy to occupied Jerusalem, which both Palestinians and Israelis claim as their capital.
Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi has said she hopes the summit will lead to a resolution, and concrete action, supporting the Palestinian position on occupied Jerusalem.
Author source: Shakir Essa
A Senior Journalist and writer, Ex- UN news agency in #Africa, all views are my own. The Voice of voiceless
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