Iran's claims of Israeli 'terrorism' fail to dissuade other Middle East states from pursuing peace – Struan Stevenson
When 57 Muslim leaders gathered in Riyadh on Saturday to discuss the Gaza crisis, sickening hypocrisy was high on the agenda. It was the first time Arab and Muslim leaders had met in Saudi Arabia for more than 15 years. They were keen to display unity in their opposition to Israel’s military onslaught in the Gaza Strip.
The summit, organised by the League of Arab States and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and opened by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was attended by avowed enemies of Israel and America, such as Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
Raisi, known as the ‘Butcher of Tehran’ for his role in the notorious massacre of more than 30,000 political prisoners in 1988, used the occasion to attack the US, claiming it was guilty of war crimes by supplying weapons to Israel. Such a statement, coming from a president who supplies kamikaze drones to Vladimir Putin for use against Ukrainian civilian targets and whose regime has been a lifelong supporter of Hamas, training and financing its terrorist activities, wears a little thin.
His regime has sent money, men and resources to Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Assad’s bloody civil war in Syria and the brutal Shi’ia militias in Iraq for years, exporting terror and aggression across the Middle East and sponsoring terrorist attacks and assassinations in the West.
Raisi, on his first trip to Saudi Arabia since the two countries mended ties in a China-brokered deal in March, demanded that Islamic countries should designate the Israeli army as a “terrorist organisation” for its conduct in Gaza. This, coming from the president who proudly boasts about his Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), his regime’s Gestapo, listed as a terrorist organisation by the US, is the height of irony. Indeed, for Raisi to point an accusatory finger at Israel and America is jaw-dropping hypocrisy of the highest order.
Not willing to be outdone, Raisi’s close friend Assad called for the Muslim leaders to demonstrate action, not words, in dealing with the war in Gaza. Blaming the Israelis for “Zionist ferocity and massacres”, Assad, who has presided over a ten-year civil war, mercilessly massacring over 306,000 of his own citizens, clearly knows no shame.
Like Raisi, Assad counts on Putin as a key ally, relying on Russian military assistance and even Wagner mercenaries, to raze opposition cities to the ground and ruthlessly slaughter men, women and children. Assad even authorised the use of gas and chemical weapons to kill thousands. Benefiting from his experience in Syria, Putin has now rolled out his well-oiled killing machine in Ukraine.
Tehran may not have achieved what it wanted from the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel on October 7. The mullahs clearly hoped their unashamed backing of Hamas and its atrocities would remind their Sunni rivals in the Middle East of their willingness to support savagery to achieve dominance in the region. They hoped the Hamas attack would undermine the Israelis and extinguish proposals by Saudi Arabia and others to achieve rapprochement with Israel.
Their plan may have backfired. Iran’s proxy wars in the Middle East have left a trail of death and destruction. Their support for Assad has accounted for many times the number of deaths in Gaza or indeed in all of the Israeli-Palestinian wars combined. Their support for the terrorist Hezbollah has left the once proud and prosperous country of Lebanon a smouldering, poverty-stricken Iranian satellite. Their backing of the Houthi rebels in Yemen has created one of the greatest humanitarian disasters in the world today.
The legacy of the fundamentalist mullahs’ drive to achieve Middle East dominance and hegemony has terrified many of their neighbours. Sunni Arabs in particular regard them as a security threat. Even Hezbollah, which takes its orders directly from Tehran, has shown a reluctance to do little more than fire the occasional rocket over the border into Israel.
They do not want to risk an all-out war with Israel. There is growing evidence that Tehran may have designed and organised the October 7 attack, igniting the current catastrophic situation in Gaza, and Iran’s main rivals in the Middle East know where the blame should lie.
The mullahs’ tactics may have also finally awakened President Joe Biden and the US State Department, who have pursued a condescending policy of appeasement of the Iranian regime. Surely now they have at last recognised Iran as the main cause of unrest and aggression in the Middle East?
Appalled at the prospect of Iranian dominance of the region, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have all indicated that they intend to pursue their policy of reconciliation with Israel, once the current conflict has ended. They believe that working closely with Jerusalem is the safest way to guarantee long-term peace in the Middle East.
For Raisi and Assad, and indeed for China and Russia, this will be seen as a strategic disaster. Worse still from Tehran’s point of view, the anti-Iranian Arab states are committed to a revived form of Palestinian governance that will exclude Iran’s proxies from both the West Bank and Gaza and possibly even threaten the future of Hezbollah.
In his book 1984, George Orwell described the government of dystopian state Oceania in these terms: “The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink.” It seems like many of those attending the emergency Arab Muslim Summit in Riyadh may be fans of Oceania.
Struan Stevenson, a former member of the European Parliament, is coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change and chair of the In Search of Justice committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran. His latest book is entitled Dictatorship and Revolution. Iran – A Contemporary History.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.