Hizbullah winning over Arab street
Key Arab leaders condemn the Shiite group, despite its popularity with their citizens.
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But he and other analysts say that Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia's history of animosity with Shiite Iran, which sought to challenge the Saudi monarchy's position of leadership among world Muslims after its Islamic revolution, has left the regime more nervous about Iran's nuclear program than about flareups of terrorism that, while dramatic, have never challenged the regime.Skip to next paragraph
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"The Saudis are trying to make sure that the United Nations and the Security Council will be involved in the region as a way of controlling Iran,'' says Saudi political analyst Adel al-Toraifi.
The escalating confrontation between Israel and Lebanon is also helping Syria and Iran gain influence and prestige among Arab populations for their strong support of Hizbullah and Hamas.
"Iran will certainly benefit from Hizbullah strikes in some ways,'' wrote Anthony Cordesman, a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Washington. "They distract from its nuclear activities. They show the Arab and Muslim world that Iran is a government willing to strike at the Israeli enemy... [and] Israel's reprisals build Arab and Muslim anger against the US."
Meanwhile, Hizbullah, with its status as the most organized force in the region willing to oppose Israel, is likely to deepen its support among Lebanon's Shiite community and at the same time exacerbate the sectarian tension in the country that fed its 16-year civil war, which ended in 1990. In Egypt thousands have protested what they're terming "Israeli aggression."
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's strongest and most popular opposition movement, stated its strong support for Hizbullah and Hamas and condemned Arab governments for passive support of Israel. Hamas is an informal offshoot of the Brotherhood.
"The position of the Arab regimes has ... [become] one of silence toward Israeli crimes and probable collusion of some regimes with the enemy," Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef said last week about the fighting in Lebanon.
In an interview with Al Jazeera on Monday, he lashed out at Arab leaders again, and then went further, comparing Israel with Nazi Germany and praising Hizbullah. "The Lebanese who kidnapped the Zionist soldiers are true nationalists led by a great man. These regimes continue to serve foreign interests completely ignoring and repressing the demands and hopes of their people," he said.
In Jordan, a protest of a few hundred citizens over Israel's strikes into Lebanon Saturday also focused on the restrictions on political organization and speech inside the country. Many Jordanians say the repressions of their own regime are tolerated by the US in exchange for Jordan's peace deal with Israel.
And as the crisis has spiraled, even Arab leaders close to the US and Israel, have warned of the potential for blowback. "Israel will not emerge as a victor in this war. It will only create more enemies," Egyptian President Mubarak said Monday. "The war will only inflame Arab animosity toward Israel (and) many anti-Israel extremist forces will surface."
On Monday, at least 17 Lebanese were killed in Israeli bombings, and the Israeli military confirmed a raid into Lebanese territory the previous day. Eight of the dead were Lebanese soldiers. Hizbullah responded with another volley of rockets at Haifa, which exploded without causing casualties.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that Israel would pursue its offensive against Hizbullah until two captured soldiers were returned and Lebanese Army troops controlled all of southern Lebanon.
The fighting led to calls from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for the insertion of an international peacekeeping force into southern Lebanon, though that's an option that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert staunchly opposes.
Whether Syria or Iran has the ability to force Hizbullah leader Nasrallah to release two Israeli soldiers his forces kidnapped a week ago, precipitating the crisis, is unclear. Nasrallah, a fiery Shiite cleric, has vowed to release the soldiers only in exchange for three Lebanese and a much larger group of Palestinians in Israeli jails.
• Rasheed Abou-Alsamh from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and wires contributed to this report.