In recent months the US and Israelis have made a big deal out of the problems Sunni and Shiites in Iraq are having with each trying to project the differences the two Iraqi groups have with each other on to the wider Middle East Sunni and Shia communities. The aim, of course, is to simply isolate one nation that has a predominately Shia population, Iran, from other Middle East nations that have a predominately Sunni population – which is just about most of the Middle East – apart from Iraq. The US and the Israelis seem to think that they can exploit the differences that Iraqi Sunni and Shia have for propaganda purposes in their warm-up to war with Iran.
What the US and the Israelis fail to understand though, is that, despite the differences Sunni and Shia have had over hundreds of years, they have over that time developed an ability to be able to live quite happily with each other throughout the region both at basic community level and at national level. The differences that Sunni and Shia have in Iraq are simply the animosities that have been left over after having been built up over many years in Iraq by the policies of Saddam Hussein. It would be a big mistake to consider that those animosities can be projected over the entire region.
The alliances and understandings that Sunni and Shia have with each other throughout the region are very complex. Yes, they certainly do have differences and those differences have indeed come to a head in Iraq, but elsewhere, even where there are differences, those differences are put aside when the need to unite against a common enemy emerges. This has been demonstrated many times in Iraq where both Sunni and Shiite forces have operated together to attack American and allied soldiers in Iraq. And at national levels Syria and Iran have treaties that look after each others interest despite Iran being predominately Shia and Syria being predominately Sunni. And the fact that Israel’s declared enemies, the Hizbollah to the north in Lebanon, a predominately Shia organization, and Hamas in the Gaza and the West Bank, predominately Sunni, are in an alliance with each other is just another reason why the US and Israel are trying so hard to wedge the two groupings. The reality, however, is that the two major players in the game, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are very much aware of the game that the US and Israel are trying to play and, consequently, are not really interested in getting up each others nose just to stroke the whims of US and Israeli fancifulness.
Saudi Arabia knows Iran hasn’t got, nor wants, a bomb and Iran knows Saudi Arabia knows. Saudi Arabia may well be funding insurgents in Iraq, insurgents that are fighting to rid Iraq of the occupiers, but they know better than to fund Sunnis that simply want a turf war and a bit of bloody payback against the Shiites there and the recent pledge of friendship between Saudi Arabia and Iran only strengthens the ties between Sunnis and Shia making even more forlorn the US and Israeli hope of wedging them.