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(photo credit: AP)
With the exception of the Palestinians, the Arab world appears to be united in blaming Iran and Syria for the fighting in Lebanon. Until last week, Arab political analysts and government officials were reluctant to criticize Hizbullah in public. But now that Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and his top aides are in hiding, an anti-Hizbullah coalition is emerging not only in Lebanon, but in several other Arab countries as well.
The Palestinians and Hizbullah feel that their Arab brethren have once again turned their backs on them. On Monday, hundreds of Palestinians who marched in downtown Ramallah in support of Hizbullah chanted: "Hassan Nasrallah is our hero, the rest of the Arab leaders are cowards" and "O beloved Abu Hadi [Nasrallah's nickname], bomb, bomb Tel Aviv." The second battle cry is reminiscent of the famous slogan the Palestinians used during the first Gulf War: "O beloved Saddam, bomb, bomb Tel Aviv."
Hizbullah and their supporters were hoping that the massive Israeli military operation in Lebanon would trigger large-scale protests throughout the Arab world, creating instability and threatening to bring down some of the Arab regimes.
But the response on the Arab street has been so disappointing for Hizbullah that its leaders are now openly talking about an Arab "conspiracy" to liquidate the Shi'ite organization. The few Hizbullah supporters in Ramallah, the Gaza Strip and some Arab capitals have therefore been directing most of their criticism against the Arab presidents and monarchs, accusing them of serving the interests of the US and Israel.
The anti-Hizbullah coalition, which appears to be growing with every Israeli missile that drops on the heads of Hizbullah leaders and headquarters, is spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. These three countries, together with many Arab commentators and political analysts, are convinced that the leaders of Teheran and Damascus are using Hizbullah to divert attention from Iran's nuclear program and Syria's involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
The Saudis were the first to openly criticize Hizbullah, paving the way for other Arab countries to follow suit. The message coming out of these countries is that the Arabs and Muslims can't afford to allow an irresponsible and adventurous organization like Hizbullah to drag the region to war. Government spokesmen and officials, as well as prominent Arab editors and commentators, have shown no sympathy for Hizbullah while appearing on pan-Arab TV networks like Al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi.
The Saudi position, which surprised Hizbullah and its supporters, was outlined by an anonymous official, who said that the people should distinguish between legitimate resistance and dangerous adventurism by some parties without cooperation from their governments and the Arab states.
The Saudi stand reflected the position of all the Gulf countries, which are unhappy not only with Hizbullah, but with Hamas as well. The Gulf countries are of the opinion that Hizbullah and Hamas are acting on orders from Teheran and Damascus.
That's why most Arab governments have refrained from making efforts to resolve the current crisis. As one government official in the Gulf explained: "We cannot play the role of mediators upon the request of some parties that act without taking into consideration the consequences of their actions." Similar sentiments have been reflected in a series of articles that appeared in the Arab media over the past few days. Some of the articles appear as if they had been written by Israeli government spokesmen. Ironically, the fact that Hizbullah and Hamas are now on the defensive has encouraged many Arabs to come out against the two groups in public.
Wadi Batti, an Iraqi columnist, said the Arabs should realize that militias and gangsters will only worsen their conditions. "The Lebanese example confirms the fears of Arabs about the presence of armed militias that threaten our stability and security," he wrote.
"By initiating the confrontation with Israel, Hizbullah has made a mockery of the Lebanese government and leaders, who are now seen as pawns in the hands of Nasrallah. How long will the Arabs continue to fight on behalf of Iran?"
Echoing the mood among most of his Lebanese fellow Christians, Joseph Bishara said: "Hizbullah is trying to provoke Israel into war to divert attention from the mistakes made by the Syrian and Iranian regimes. Bashar Assad and Ali Khamenei are using Hizbullah to achieve their direct and indirect goals in the region. They used Hizbullah to ease the pressure exerted by the international community on Syria and Iran.
"How can we ask Israel to have mercy on the Lebanese while Hizbullah is betraying Lebanon day and night?"
Bishara, whose article appeared on the Saudi-owned Elaph Web site, went as far as describing Syria and Iran as the real enemies of Lebanon. Today, he added, "Lebanon is paying the price for the sins of its real enemies - Syria and Iran, which don't dare confront Israel militarily and diplomatically. The time has come to neutralize and disarm Hizbullah before it becomes an illegitimate state inside Lebanon. Hizbullah's weapons threaten Lebanon's stability before they threaten Israel."
Tarek Hamo, another prominent Arab commentator, mocked Nasrallah, drawing parallels between him and ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. "The statements of Hassan Nasrallah remind me of the statements made by Saddam Hussein on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq," he said. "Saddam, whose army generals fled their positions in Baghdad just before the invasion, also issued threats to destroy the Americans if they entered Baghdad. Nasrallah is now in hiding and his fate won't be better than that of Saddam, whose was hiding in a deep hole."
Writing in the influential pan-Arab London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, columnist Iyad Abu Shakra said that many Lebanese were surprised by the Hizbullah operation and the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers.
"They were especially shocked by the timing of the attack - at the beginning of the tourism season that was supposed to provide income for over two million Lebanese families at a time when Lebanon is suffering a $40 million deficit in its budget," he pointed out. "What's really amazing is that Hizbullah's supporters and officials have underestimated the damages, especially to the tourism sector, by claiming that the only ones who were going to benefit from the tourism season were those who love humous and women."
Trying to explain the Arab attitude, Palestinian political analyst Ashraf al-Ajrami noted that many Arab countries were afraid of Iran and did not want to see the Iranians spread their influence. "The Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, believe that no party has the right to drag the entire region to a military confrontation with Israel," he wrote in the Ramallah-based Al-Ayyam daily.
"These countries believe that there is no room for mistakes and adventures. The Arabs are worried about Iran's plans in the region, especially with regards to Iraq and the development of nuclear weapons, and their attempts to influence events in Lebanon and Palestine. A large number of Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, see Iran as a future adversary."