September 27, 2007 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 390

Saudi Columnists Criticize Iran, Syria, Hizbullah

September 27, 2007 | By H. Varulkar*
Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 390


In recent weeks, Saudi columnists have published numerous columns harshly critical of Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah. The columns warned of the demographic change that Iran is promoting in Lebanon and condemned Hizbullah for its willingness to sacrifice Lebanon for the sake of Syrian and Iranian interests. Syria was criticized for submitting blindly to Iranian directives, and was accused of being behind the assassination of Lebanese leaders in the past three decades, including that of former prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri.

In addition, the Saudi daily Al-Watan reported that documents recently discovered by Iraqi sources reveal the extent to which Iranian elements have infiltrated Iraq's government institutions, parliament, and security apparatuses. The documents show that 108 activists from Iran's Al-Quds Forces, which belong to the Revolutionary Guards, have managed to attain key positions in Iraq's defense and interior ministries.[1]

The following are excerpts from the columns:

Iran is Leading Geographic and Demographic Change in Lebanon

In an article in the London daily Al-Hayat, Saudi columnist Hussein Shubakshi wrote:[2] "Exorbitant sums of money are being transferred from Iran to Hizbullah, at an unprecedented rate, for purchasing land and real estate. This has become the talk of the day among leaders and among everyone involved in real estate.

"Most of the lands and real estate are passing into the hands [of the Shi'ites], giving them control over southern Lebanon and the Beqa' Valley, so that Hizbullah will eventually control the majority of the lands adjoining the Syrian border. [However], this new finding was not the last surprise [in store for us]. It was recently published, in a series of reports, that the Lebanese government has discovered a secret network of 3G mobile phones owned exclusively by Hizbullah[3] and unsupervised by the state or by the relevant government office.

"This increase in precisely [targeted] strategic land acquisition is motivated by Iran's aspirations to create a continuous stretch of regions under its influence, which spans southern Lebanon, the Beqa' Valley, Syria, and Iraq, reaching as far as Iran... As for [Hizbullah's private] telephone network, it proves once again that the idea of a state within a state, which Hizbullah has been entertaining of late, is very much alive. It goes without saying that [Hizbullah's] objective is to weaken the central government and then come out against it...

"New borders are being charted in the area… The world is watching the creation of new borders on Lebanese soil, circumscribing southern Lebanon and the Beqa' Valley, and spilling over to the rest of the country. What sparks worry and suspicion – to say the least – is that, while numerous changes are being made in southern Lebanon and the Beqa' Valley, people are being deceived that [the aim of these developments] is to liberate the Shaba' Farms. With [the increased] geographic and demographic changes in southern Lebanon and the Beqa' Valley, the Iranian presence in the cultural arena and in communications has intensified – and the future looks much more ominous…"[4]

Nasrallah to Syria and Iran: I Am at Your Service!

In the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, editor Tareq Al-Humaid criticized Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, saying: "A report published in this paper a couple of days ago stated that Nasrallah had returned the house he had been renting to its owners and moved to an unknown location, as part of the plan to rebuild Dhahiya [the Hizbullah neighborhood in southern Beirut], which had been destroyed in the Israeli attack on Lebanon during the war… If only Mr. Nasrallah would be consistent and give Lebanon back to its people – in other words, [if only] Lebanon were subject to the Lebanese agenda, and not to that of Iran and Syria…

"Hizbullah relied on the high standing of the resistance in Lebanon, and on Lebanon's liberation, but it wasted this potential and found itself face to face with Lebanese civilians. [It is quite understandable, then,] that the casualties of the last war numbered 1,200 Lebanese civilians, not to mention the damage to the property. Today Hizbullah wants to bury Lebanon under its 'abaya [traditional Muslim cloak], disregarding Lebanon's [ethnic] diversity.

"…Lebanon wants Syria to leave its territory, and to return via diplomatic relations by [exchanging] ambassadors… Lebanon wants Iran to obey the geographic [constraints] and remain within its natural borders, instead of treating Beirut as a card to be used in its political conflicts and [to fulfill] its aspirations of spreading the Islamic revolution… [At such a time,] Nasrallah acts like a genie which has escaped from its bottle [as in the story of Aladdin], and which keeps assuring Syria and Iran, 'I am at your service! I am at your service!'"...[5]

Syria Has Become a Dagger Thrust by Iran into the Heart of the Arab Nation

An August 18, 2007 article in the Saudi daily 'Okaz criticized the Syria-Iran alliance, stating: "The Saudi kingdom is voicing concern on behalf of all the Arabs at Syria's new role in the region, and at the change of its historical role from being an Arab [country] in the heart of its Arab homeland to [being part of] a bizarre alliance with a regional element [i.e. Iran] which does not conceal its aspirations [to promote] its [own] interests at the expense of the Arabs – so much so that Syria has practically become a dagger thrust by this regional element into [the heart of] the Arab nation!

"The entire Arab world is concerned at the paralysis that has afflicted Syria, [a country] which used to lead Arab unity and the defense of Arab national interests. Even more worrying to the Arab world is [the possibility] that this paralysis might be exported to Syria's neighboring [countries]! The Saudi kingdom has always been able to overcome the hurts in its political relations with other [elements], and it is not asking for policy advice from someone who is under regional and international isolation [i.e. Syria]. Saudi Arabia will remain the throbbing heart of the Arab homeland, pumping blood into all Arab arteries, including the beloved Syria – even if there are some who want to change the layout of these arteries…"[6]

Syria-Iran Relations – From Alliance to Blind Obedience

Saudi columnist for Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Mashari Al-Dhaidi wrote: "The Syria-Saudi dispute has now come into the open. Something that used to be whispered is now spoken about out loud, since the disagreement between Damascus and Riyadh is over policy and viewpoint. Indeed, the Syrian regime of the Bashar Al-Assad era has, strategically, tied [itself] irrevocably to Tehran's fundamentalist regime – so much so that it has become a link between Iran's island in Lebanon, i.e. Hizbullah, and the source of weapons, funding, and guidance located in Iran…

"Is Damascus still 'the throbbing heart of the Arab entity'?! Or has this heart become entrapped in a crisis?... One should remember Syria's central role in the birth, fostering, and support of the idea of pan-Arabism… The banners of pan-Arabism and the discourse of Arab unity were characteristic features of Syrian political scene for years on end. The battles between the sides in the political game were fought over the question of 'who is more faithful to the Arab and pan-Arab national identity?!' Many years elapsed, until the current president, Bashar Al-Assad, the son of Hafez, came to power, and the situation changed. [The problem] is not Bashar's close relations with Iran… Indeed, his father, Hafez Al-Assad, was also on good terms with Iran, even at the peak of the Iran-Iraq war… [Rather, the problem is that] Assad senior, while flying the banner of pan-Arabism with one hand, was always upholding the interests of his regime…

"During the era of Assad junior… Damascus-Tehran relations have changed from alliance to blind obedience... The Iranians have found their way into Syria, which is obvious from the size of Iran's diplomatic mission in Damascus, numbering hundreds of officials! There has been perpetual talk of political campaigns aimed at persuading [the Syrians] to become Shi'ites… There has also been widespread talk of another strange phenomenon in Syrian society – namely, more and more women are joining the Qubaisiat order… that is, a Shafi'ite Sunni order of Sufi leanings, popular among women inside and outside Syria. The movement's headquarters, which are located in Damascus, instruct Syrian women in extremist ways that reject the legacy of openness and enlightenment in which Syrian women are brought up…

"So, to which identity will the Syrian regime adhere in the future? While its foreign policy is definitely Shi'ite, on the domestic arena – in its very viscera – there is a turbulent Sunni fundamentalist movement, sowing terror [all around]… In addition, we are witnessing a proliferation of Shi'ites in Al-Raqqa and other Syrian provinces, to such an extent that it troubles the Sunni sheikhs in Syria, who have announced their protest.

"What, then, remains of the Syrian belief in the national Arab and pan-Arab [ideology]: Is Syria's heart still beating?!... And last but not least, [Farouq Al-Shar'] emerges to preach and lecture to us on pan-Arabism?!..."[7]

Syria – The Regime of Assassinations and Massacres

A special investigative article, published August 22, 2007 on the Saudi daily 'Okaz, accused the Syrian regime of being behind the assassination of Lebanese leaders in the last 30 years, and called it a "regime of assassinations and massacres":

"What is preferable for Lebanon: to be independent of Syria and, [as a result], have its security and the lives [of its citizens] imperiled, or to submit to Syria and enjoy some peace and quiet? [This is the choice] that the Syrian Ba'th regime has forced on all the Lebanese, both in the coalition and in the opposition, ever since the passing of [U.N.] Resolution 1559 of 2004, which demanded the Syrian army's immediate withdrawal from Lebanon. The first [move] by the Syrian regime [following the resolution] was to extend the term of office of [Lebanese] President Emile Lahoud. Then came the attempted assassination of Minister Marwan Hamada, intended to [prevent] Rafiq Al-Hariri from heading the new government, and after that came the assassination of Rafiq Al-Hariri himself, on February 14, 2005...

"Ever since, the [Syrian] 'death squads' have been pursuing the enemies of the Syrian regime in Lebanon and murdering them one by one, at critical [junctures] and with obvious goals. The common denominator shared by all [the victims] is the small tactical benefit [that the Syrian regime gained from each assassination] – for instance, from silencing the courageous journalist Samir Qasir, the [murder] of the well-known Communist [leader] George Hawi, the assassination of Minister Elias Al-Murr, the attempt to intimidate the leading [Lebanese] TV [channel] LBC by targeting one of its journalists, May Chidiac, and the assassination of [Lebanese] MP Jubran Tweini, director-general of Lebanon's first daily Al-Nahar. Then came the murder of Pierre Gemayel, in a special operation aimed at toppling the Al-Siniora government, and finally the murder of [Lebanese] MP Walid 'Ido, in an attempt to demonstrate that the [international] tribunal cannot protect Lebanon.

"Syria was forced to withdraw its armed forces from Lebanon in April 2005... but since then, it has been [trying to] show Lebanon and others that it [still] has significant influence over this country, and that [Lebanon] can find salvation only with Syria's [help], and not without it. The Syrian regime – which for the past 30 years has made a habit of systematically – and with impunity – murdering Lebanese leaders, beginning with Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt, has not yet grasped the [full implications] of the terrible shock caused by the murder of [former Lebanese prime minister] Rafiq Al-Hariri. Since its aim is to control Lebanon, the sectarian affiliation [of the victims] was never an important consideration in the assassinations, and leaders from all the ethnic groups in Lebanon were killed..."[8]

Al-Manar TV is [Morally] Bankrupt

In another column, Saudi columnist Hussein Al-Shoubakshi condemned Hizbullah's TV channel Al-Manar for reporting, on August 15, 2007, that the Saudi Embassy in Lebanon had known that Israel was planning to attack Lebanon in July 2006 and had evacuated its citizens from the country.[9] Al-Shoubakshi wrote: "In some third-world countries, the role of the media is to preserve a certain myth – sometimes even by lying in every possible way and regardless of the cost... Today, it seems that the Lebanese channel Al-Manar, which is part of the Hizbullah's propaganda network... has completely lost its bearings and is now operating as one of the Hizbullah's propaganda [tools]. The resistance [movement, i.e. Hizbullah] seems to have changed direction, [relinquishing] the confrontation with Israel, which was its well-known and self-proclaimed [goal], and turning against the Arab countries that are supporting and assisting Lebanon, upholding its independence, and protecting it from the infiltration of non-Lebanese elements.

"Al-Manar's report about the Saudi Embassy... is perhaps part of a science fiction story, and can be classed with the famous tales of Harry Potter. This [allegation] does not merit further comment, nor does [Saudi Arabia] have to explain or defend itself – for accusations of this sort constitute [nothing more than] an official and regrettable announcement of the profound [moral] bankruptcy of Hizbullah and its propaganda apparatus. Does this kind of style befit the 'honor of the resistance [movement]' – a slogan that the channel likes to flaunt day and night?...

"Hizbullah desperately needs someone to rescue it from its own [blunders], since it is inconceivable that its 'divine' victory should lead [only] to fitna [i.e. internal strife], to the fabrication of lies, and to the deepening of the schism [in Lebanon]. Surveys and rating statistics do not lie. The figures show a sharp drop in Al-Manar's ratings... – for Arab viewers are not fools who cannot tell the difference between a real report and poison intended to sow strife. Media [channels] greater [than Al-Manar] have fallen into this trap..."[10]

*H. Varulkar is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] Iraqi sources stated that Iraqi MPsmembers affiliated with the Al-Quds Forces belong to the United Iraqi Coalition led by the Al-Maliki government. These MPs are: Ahmad Jassim Muhammad Al-Moussawi, Iqbal Muhammad Khalil Al-Ghanemi, Mustapha Muhammad Baqi, 'Abd Al-Karim 'Abd Al-Sahib Muhammad Hasan Al-Naqib, 'Abbas Hasan Moussa Al-Amirli Al-Bayati, Riyadh 'Abd Al-Hamza Gharib (minister for municipalities), Hamid Rasheed Mu'aalah Al-Sa'edi, Hassan Jassim Nu'mah Al-Zamili, Muhammad Rajih 'Ulwan Al-Marzouk, and Basima 'Aziz Nasser Al-Ghezzi. Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), September 2, 2007.

[2] Recently, the issue of Iran-assisted land sales in southern Lebanon to the Shi'ite ethnic community has been the talk of the day, mainly following statements by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. In an interview with the Lebanese weekly Nahar Al-Shabab, Jumblatt contended that Iran was helping Hizbullah purchase lands in southern Lebanon through Jihad Al-Bina', an organization belonging to Hizbullah and Shi'ite Lebanese businessman 'Ali Taj Al-Din. Jumblatt intimated that Hizbullah's aim was to attain political, military, and economic control over Lebanon. Nahar Al-Shabab (Lebanon), August 23, 2007.

[3] This sentence can also be understood to mean "a third network of mobile phones owned by Hizbullah."

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 27, 2007.

[5] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 26, 2007.

[6] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), August 18, 2007.

[7] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 21, 2007. Concerning criticism of Saudi Arabia by Farouq A-Shar' see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1687, "Syrian Vice-President in Speech Marking Syria's 'Journalist Day,'" August 17, 2007,

Syrian Vice-President in Speech Marking Syria's "Journalist Day"

[8] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), August 22, 2007.

[9] On August 16, 2007, the Saudi embassy in Lebanon responded to Al-Manar's allegations, stating that they "contained not even a grain of truth." Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), August 17, 2007.

[10] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 21, 2007.

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