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Arab League divided over Hezbollah: branded as a terrorist group

The Arab League finally branded Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group a terrorist organization. The decision came during a foreign ministers’ meeting of the Arab League at the organization’s seat in Cairo. Though the decision was not unanimous as Lebanon and Iraq abstained.

Earlier on March 2, same decision was taken by the Saudi-led bloc of six Gulf Arab nations.

This move is seen as

  • A deepening regional division between Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shiite powerhouse Iran, Hezbollah’s patron.
  • A policy to ramp up the pressure on the Shiite group, which is fighting on the side of President Bashar Assad in Syria- a direct support or favour for US.
  • A dominant role of US allies, led by Saudi Arabia. The move aligns the 22-member league firmly behind Saudi Arabia.
  • As a significant blow to Hezbollah
  • To aggravate tensions in Lebanon, undermining the country’s delicate political balance amid fierce political infighting between groups loyal to Hezbollah and Saudi-backed factions.
  • It also brings the Arab League in line with the United States, which is closely allied with the Gulf States and has long considered Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization.

Note: The European Union, US close ally, only lists the military wing of Hezbollah on its terrorist blacklist.

Saudi Arab-Iran constraint and its impact on Middle East:

  • Saudi Arabia had already cut diplomatic relations with Iran earlier this year after protesters angry over the kingdom’s execution of influential Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and another diplomatic mission in Iran.
  • In addition to diplomatic pressures, Saudi Arabia has just finished a three-week long counter-terrorism drill dubbed “Northern Thunder” that included 20 participating countries, in what observers say was a show of force by the kingdom against its foes. It also sent a strategic message to Iran, and extremist Sunni groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.
  • The kingdom has taken other punitive measures against Lebanon, including cutting $4 billion in aid to Lebanese security forces and urging its citizens to leave Lebanon — a blow to the tiny nation’s tourism industry — in retaliation for Lebanon’s siding with Iran amid the Sunni kingdom’s spat with the Shiite power.
  • The GCC’s and Arab League’s decisions underline the steep price that Hezbollah’s very public and bloody foray into Syria’s civil war has had. Once lauded in the Arab world as a heroic resistance movement that stood up to Israel, Hezbollah has seen its popularity plummet among Sunni Muslims because of its staunch support for Assad.
  • In Lebanon, the main political divide pits a Sunni-led coalition against another led by the Shiite Hezbollah movement, which includes both political and military wings. The Mediterranean country has weathered a string of militant attacks in recent years linked to the war in neighboring Syria.

Impact on Arab-Israel relation

  • It will weaken Palestine demand against Israel
  • It will also weaken Arab world’s pressure on Israel
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