Criminal Iran is the centerpiece of Arab League summit

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SAUDI ARABIA’S push for a tough stand against its arch-rival Iran is expected to dominate an Arab League summit on Sunday as regional tensions grow over the wars in Syria and Yemen.

The fate of occupied Jerusalem will also be on the summit’s agenda, as the United States prepares to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to the disputed city after declaring it the capital of Israel.

Saudi Arabia, which is hosting the yearly summit in the Eastern Province city of Dhahran, is likely to seek Arab support to pile the pressure on Iran, analysts say.

“The Saudis are going to push for a much harsher stance on Iran — not necessarily on the nuclear dossier per se, but on Iranian influence in the Arab countries, particularly Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen,” said Karim Bitar of the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Affairs.

Iran’s influence is wielded through a land route of armed parties in the Middle East — the so-called “Shiite crescent” that cuts across the mainly Sunni Arab world.

Iran has long been a supporter of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and backs Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement, whose fighters are deployed in Syria alongside regime forces.

Iran also openly supports the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen in their war against the Saudi-backed government but denies accusations of smuggling arms to the insurgents.

And in Shiite-dominated Iraq, Tehran backs armed groups and supports the government.

“The securitization of Iran is being pushed predominantly by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, along with other Arab countries including Egypt,” said Andreas Krieg, assistant professor of defense studies at King’s College London.

“Saudi Arabia has also reached out to Iraq to try and build ties and tackle militias there,” Krieg told AFP.

“It’s definitely safe to say that Iran is the centerpiece of this summit.”

Syria chemical attack

The summit will be attended by delegations from 21 of the Arab League’s 22-member states. Syria has been suspended from the organization for seven years over Assad’s crackdown on protesters.

The gathering comes as the US administration of President Donald Trump faces crucial decisions on how to react to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Trump has put off a final decision on US-led strikes against Syria after an alleged chemical attack against the rebel-held town of Douma that killed dozens.

The summit is expected to release a statement on the suspected toxic gas attack, but it remains to be seen whether the Arab League will take any action as well.

Fate of Jerusalem

Not on the table at the summit, according to Krieg, is Qatar, cut off from its Gulf allies over accusations of ties to Iran and support for extremists — claims denied by Doha.

On the eve of the summit, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir confirmed as much, saying a solution for Qatar would be found within the six-state Gulf Cooperation Council.

The summit also comes after 33 Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded at the hands of Israeli forces in mass protests along the Gaza border in recent weeks. The protests are to continue until mid-May, around the time Washington is to move its embassy to Jerusalem, which both Palestinians and Israelis claim as their capital.

Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi has said she hopes the summit will lead to a resolution, and concrete action, supporting the Palestinian position on Jerusalem. — AFP


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