Usually, the paper explains, the main threats are identified as the United States and Israel. Israel “still lives in the Arab consciousness as the biggest threat to Arab Islamic culture.”
Two points here. On the one hand, a group of leading Sunni Islamists is saying that Israel is not the biggest security threat to Arabs and Muslims today! On the other hand, Israel is identified as a cultural threat. Why? Because it is a socio-economic success story and thus subverts the narrative of Arab ethnic, cultural, and religious superiority or because it is a symbol of modernism?
But here’s the key conclusion:
Prior to the Syrian revolution, there was no consensus on what constitutes the greatest threat to our national security, but it has since become evident that the Iranian threat is much bigger than American and Israeli threats.
This is an intellectual-political earthquake in Middle East history. It in no way implies a friendly attitude toward America or Israel–which are still seen as threats–but it is an important factor to consider in Western policymaking.
One reason why Iran is such a huge threat, the paper continues, is that all Arabs and Muslims know about the United States. But Iran operates from the “inside” and in a “hidden” manner because it seems to be Muslim, Third World, anti-American, and anti-Israel. So it can fool Sunni Arab Muslims, stab them in the back, alter their culture, and take over institutions.
Thus, in Iraq, “Iran invested a lot of money and effort destroying Iraq from within through bribery and purchasing loyalties.” Of course, the real problem for the Sunni Arab Islamist movement in Iraq is that the majority of people are either Shia Muslims or Kurds who, while Sunni Muslim, have their own nationalist identity.
The paper is equally tough on Turkey, despite that country’s regime wanting to lead the Arab Sunnis. But while it is an economic threat, it doesn’t have much political or strategic leverage and is at least not trying to alter Sunni religion and culture.
While giving passing mention to the concept that Iran is merely aggressive because it has been fooled by American imperialism, the Sunni Arab Islamists claim that Iran often acts in conjunction with U.S. policy. Although you may find this idea to be strange, remember that Tehran did go along with U.S. operations against Afghanistan and Iraq, attacks which removed two of Iran’s Sunni enemies.
They conclude, “We no longer have any choice but to defend ourselves against Iran,” which holds “a sectarian, ethnic, Persian agenda.”
While the paper claims that “The United States… actually handed over Iraq to Iran and allowed it to expand into Syria,” the fact is that the West has in effect backed Sunni Islamist control over Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria. This shows, however, that the Sunni Islamists will never credit—they cannot do so ideologically—any U.S. help they receive, much less reciprocate.
What this means is that a Sunni Islamist bloc now confronts a Shia Islamist bloc. Both accuse, with some basis, the United States of supporting their enemy. The question for Western policymakers should be not to take sides—“good” Islamists against “bad” Islamists—but how to use and enhance this conflict. The worst temptation is to believe that putting one side into power–in other words, Sunni Islamists because they may hate Iran–will counter the other.
Today, aside from the undoubtedly important nuclear weapons’ issue, the main strategic threat in the Middle East is Sunni Islamism. Why? Simple. Iran cannot expand its influence successfully into Sunni Muslim majority areas yet the Arab world is overwhelmingly Sunni. Iran cannot win. Only Sunni Islamism can generate new dictatorships, repression, and conventional wars.
Originally published at Rubin Reports.