RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA — As the Arab and Muslim world, as well as the entire international community, continues to reel from the shock of the Israeli military’s massacre of around 60 Palestinians at the Gaza fence, Saudi Arabia and its junior Gulf partners have all but ignored the occupation’s human rights abuses and instead have joined the United States in imposing sanctions on top officials from Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah.
The Saudi sanctions target two top senior officials in the movement: Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem. Three other individuals were also sanctioned, according to the Saudis:
Saudi state security agencies have issued joint sanctions against five members of Hezbollah’s shura council: Hassan Nasrallah, Naim Qasim, Muhammad Yazbak, Husayn al-Khalil and Ibrahim al-Amin al-Sayyid.”
The measures were spearheaded by the U.S. Treasury Department in coordination with its partners at the so-called Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, which includes Gulf Cooperation Council member states Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman.
The move to expand existing sanctions against Hezbollah, a Shia group aligned with Iran and fighting imperialism and Israeli expansionism, comes after the group made significant gains in this month’s parliamentary elections in Lebanon.
It also coincides with a moment at which Riyadh and Tel Aviv, faced with the prospect of an Iran growing in power and regional clout, continue to build cozier ties despite having no formal diplomatic relations – a move once considered unthinkable, given the Arab people’s loathing of Israeli settler-colonial crimes against the people of Palestine.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif used Twitter to highlight the Saudis’ strange timing:
Israeli snipers shoot over 2,000 unarmed Palestinian protesters on a single day. Saudi response, on eve of #Ramadhan? Collaboration with its U.S. patron to sanction the first force to liberate Arab territory and shatter the myth of Israeli invincibility. Shame upon shame. pic.twitter.com/fyRY12ojek
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) May 17, 2018
Hezbollah, a political party aligned with Iran’s post-1979 Islamic Republican movement, was formed in 1985 as a resistance group born from the repression of South Lebanon’s Shia Muslim minority and Israel’s occupation of the region. In 2000, the group liberated South Lebanon from Israel, which conducted a hasty and humiliating withdrawal following years of stubborn guerilla resistance by Hezbollah’s military wing.
The group inflicted a historic second defeat on the Israelis in 2006, when an Israeli invasion attempt was dashed after weeks of fighting, which culminated in a resistance victory that dazzled observers, including Western and Israeli military experts.
The group gained enormous popularity across the Arab world and the sectarian divide following its 2006 victory, yet regional regimes and media outlets aligned with the United States and Saudis continued to slander and vilify Hezbollah, owing to its opposition to hereditary monarchies in the Gulf, its alliance with Tehran, and its proven military capabilities.
During a ceremony last year to mark the 11th anniversary of Hezbollah’s Aug. 13 victory over the Israelis, Nasrallah dismissed the ability of the U.S. and its allies to significantly harm the group:
The American administration, with all available and possible means, will not be able to damage the strength of the resistance.”
The Saudi-Israeli alliance
While Hezbollah has spent the last several years reinforcing the Syrian government of allied President Bashar al-Assad with thousands of Lebanese fighters, Saudi Arabia and partners like the UAE have spared no effort in bolstering various anti-government jihadist groups in Syria.
With Syria, Hezbollah, and allies like Iran and Russia chalking up major battlefield victories against the Gulf Arab-backed opposition, Saudi frustration has grown, as it also sinks deeper into the quagmire of Yemen. Since 2015, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has failed to dislodge the Houthi Ansarullah movement, a Zaydi Muslim popular movement that is loosely allied with, yet organizationally autonomous from, Hezbollah and Iran.
Faced with such setbacks, the Saudi-led Arab League has echoed Tel Aviv and Washington’s accusations that Hezbollah is “terrorist,” allegedly “spreading extremism” in the region, and supplying “terrorist organizations” like the Houthis with advanced weaponry and ballistic missiles.
Last November, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah dismissed the charge of providing rockets to the Houthis as “trivial and ridiculous,” while also noting that Hezbollah has helped to replenish the arsenals of Palestinian resistance movements, supplying even the powerful Russian-made Kornet anti-tank guided missile to groups such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“I take pride in that,” Nasrallah said.
In the meantime, Riyadh and Dubai have placed pressure on figures like Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to halt the rapprochement between his Fatah movement in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself has also attempted to pressure the Palestinian Authority to accept the Trump White House’s so-called “Peace Plan” or “Deal of the Century,” which unequivocally favors Israeli interests and an expansion of the Zionist occupation. The king-in-waiting has been hailed as a “modernizer” for his open advocacy of normalizing ties with the Israeli occupation.
According to media reports, the Saudi king-in-waiting shocked representatives of Zionist-American groups during a closed-door meeting in New York in March when he blasted the Palestinians for not accepting Israeli dictates.
A reporter from Israel’s Channel 10 News noted that Bin Salman told Jewish leaders:
In the last several decades the Palestinian leadership has missed one opportunity after the other and rejected all the peace proposals it was given. It is about time the Palestinians take the proposals and agree to come to the negotiations table or shut up and stop complaining.”
In stark contrast to the Saudis’ attempts to ally themselves with Tel Aviv, Hezbollah officials like deputy chief Qassem have promised never to compromise over the Palestinian people’s stolen land, instead bringing the occupiers a “full-fledged and unrestricted battle.”
On Monday, Nasrallah commented:
The United States did not care at all about the interests of its allies when exiting the atomic agreement with Tehran. Therefore, peace talks for Palestine will yield no outcome if the U.S. is included.”
Lost Saudi hegemony
While the Saudis offered a brief condemnation of the Israeli massacre of civilians at the Gaza fence, the kingdom was conspicuously muted when it came to Monday’s inauguration of the U.S. Embassy in the divided and illegally-occupied city of Jerusalem. On Tuesday, a perfunctory Saudi diplomatic statement condemning the move was released by the country’s Council of Ministers, chaired by King Salman.
Despite the denunciation, the Saudis have long been seen as abdicating from the Palestinian cause and instead defecting to the ranks of the Israeli and U.S. leaders like Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu, Jared Kushner and others. From Baghdad to Algiers, Salman has faced widespread mockery for his perceived toadying to Trump and the Israelis.
In turn, the Saudis and their junior partners have pointed their finger at neighbors seen as undermining the regional order, such as the “satanic” Hezbollah; Qatar; the “evil” Turkey, which currently heads the Organization of the Islamic Conference; and Iran, which is seen as the top “existential” threat to Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
Top Photo | U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, is welcomed by Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, center, as they attend a joint press conference at the Royal Terminal of King Khaled airport, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, April 29, 2018. (AP/Amr Nabil)
Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.
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