IRAN VERSUS THE ARAB STATES. An intriguing subplot I've overlooked so far in the Lebanon situation has been the attitude of the "axis of pro-American dictators" (to coin a phrase) which is extremely close to the main line of analysis we've heard from American and Israeli hawks. Take this reporting in The Jerusalem Post:
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.
For Arab states to so openly take Israel's side in a dispute is noteworthy on its own terms, and the Egypto-Saudi-Jordanian view that Iran and Syria are responsible seems to be an important data point. The New York Times's coverage of this angle says "the willingness of those governments to defy public opinion in their own countries underscores a shift that is prompted by the growing influence of Iran and Shiite Muslims in Iraq and across the region." What's more:
"There is a school of thought, led by Saudi Arabia, that believes that Hezbollah is a source of trouble, a prot�g� of Iran, but also a political instrument in the hands of Iran," said Adnan Abu Odeh, a Jordanian sociologist. "This school says we should not play into the hands of Iran, which has its own agenda, by sympathizing or supporting Hezbollah fighting against the Israelis."
It would be interesting to know to what extent this Arab state position is being driven by specific intelligence as opposed to a general desire to take a strong stand against Iran and/or Shiite militancy as a general matter. Hopefully, we'll learn more about this in days to come. Mark Lynch's analysis of Arabic media coverage suggests that the portions of the Arab public sphere not owned by the Saudi government are taking the more traditional anti-Israel point of view and Shadi Hamdi indicates that Egyptian public opinion is not with the Egyptian regime on this issue. There are some obvious issues one could raise here about the Middle East democracy initiative and its relationship to other American strategic goals.