A virtual conflict is racking the Arabic social media with belligerent sorties between Palestinians and Saudis in the wake of last week’s Arab foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo that declared the Lebanon-based, Iranian-backed Islamist group Hizbullah a “terrorist organization.”
The Gaza Strip-based Islamist Palestinian faction Hamas quickly rose to the defense of its Lebanese allies, with deputy leader Musa Abu Marzouk, objecting to the designation and registering Hamas’ refusal to classify the Lebanese group as terrorists. Response to Marzouk’s comments was equally swift and unequivocal, with Saudi activists, writers and advisers to the Saudi royal launching the hashtag “Riyadh is more important than Jerusalem” — claiming that some Saudis regret all the years their country boycotted Israel on behalf of the Palestinians who “don’t appreciate Saudi efforts and help.”
“Hizbullah is not a terrorist organization, and if that classification is accepted, we will all share the same fate,” Abu Marzouk tweeted. Turki Al Hamad, a Saudi journalist responded on Twitter, asserting that if this is the Hamas position on Hizbullah, “then the Palestinian case no longer matters to me.”
As attention is fixed on the Palestinian reconciliation between the Fatah and Hamas factions and the prospect of elections for a unity government are atop the agenda, the Saudis are deeply concerned about the impact the incorporation of Hamas members into the Palestinian government will have given the Hamas commitment to warming its ties to Iran.
Earlier this month, Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri held a high-profile meeting with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon. This came just days after a high-ranking Hamas delegation, led by al-Arouri, visited Tehran and met with senior Iranian officials.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas was subsequently, and unexpectedly, invited to Saudi Arabia for impromptu meetings with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. During the PA leader’s visit to Riyadh, the Saudi king reaffirmed his government’s long-standing support for the Palestinians in international forums and its commitment to providing “all that is required to bring about the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.”
Abdul Haj Ibrahim, head of the Political Science Department at Birzeit University in Ramallah, contended to The Media Line that “Abbas was brought to the kingdom as part of the Saudi campaign to recruit Sunni Arab leaders to its side in the ongoing feud with [Shiite] Iran and Hezbollah,” which is playing out with deadly consequences in proxy wars in Syria and Yemen. “It’s a new alignment of the Arab forces in the area,” he said.
In this context, Ibrahim explained that the Saudi leadership is working to ensure that Palestinians living in Lebanon side with Riyadh, especially in the wake of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s sudden resignation (subsequently rescinded). In his announcement, Hariri cited fear of assassination and blamed Iran for dividing the Arab world. Saudi Arabia accused the Lebanese government of declaring war on the kingdom by failing to rein in Hezbollah, which dominates Beirut’s military and political apparatuses.
Ameen Abu Warda, a Palestinian social media expert explained to The Media Line that the latest media clash started when an Israeli blogger, Ben Tzion, 31, posted a picture of himself inside a mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia, which provoked outrage among Muslims on social media. “Some have taken advantage of the picture of the Israeli in Medina to criticize the Saudis for apparently normalizing relations with Israel.”
Abu Warda noted that social media reflects the crises in the region, adding there is a quantum leap in how many Arabs are active on social media, especially among Palestinians. “This year more than 80 percent of the Palestinian people have been active on social media.” Abu Warda contends that what the people think, as reflected in social media, affects government decisions.”
Speaking to The Media Line, Sulaiman Awkali, a Saudi political analyst confirmed that the electronic clashes between the Palestinians and Saudis is contributing to inflaming strife between Arab nations. Awkali said that It is not in the best interests of the Saudi and Palestinian peoples to clash as it will adversely affect the Palestinian cause and inter-Arab cooperation.
Awakili revealed that there is an electronic army operating from Tehran and in the Hezbollah-held south of Beirut in cooperation with some of their allies in Syria and Iraq, to incite against Saudi Arabia. “The Saudis have identified 18,000 Twitter accounts operating from Tehran in Arabic, using Arabic names and even tribal names from the Arabian Peninsula, aimed at creating strife among the Saudi people and confusion within Saudi society.”
Lately, cooperation between Israel and the Arab world has become more public. In a rare interview with the Saudi newspaper Elaph, Israeli army Chief-of-Staff Gen. Gadi Eizenkot described Iran as the “largest threat to the region.” The basis for the Israeli-Saudi ties, despite the lack of any diplomatic relations between the two nations, is encapsulated by Eizenkot’s explanation that “Iran seeks to take control of the Middle East, creating a Shiite crescent from Lebanon to Iran and from the [Persian] Gulf to the Red Sea.” Both Israel and Saudi Arabia apparently agree that Iran must be prevented from doing so.
Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s Energy Minister, confirmed last week, what had been widely suspected, but until now undisclosed. He revealed that there have been numerous contacts between the Saudi Kingdom and Israel. Speaking to Israel’s Army Radio, Steinitz blamed Arab countries for insisting on secrecy, saying that Israel is not ashamed of the relationship.
Gad Shimron, an Israeli political analyst and former agent of the famed Mossad international intelligence unit, told The Media Line that there is no love lost between Saudi Arabia and Israel – it’s just a matter of mutual interest. “The Saudi Prince Fahd’s Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative Israel in 1981, favored the Palestinians in six out of its eight clauses. In 2002, the Saudi peace initiative included less clauses in favor of the Palestinians, but what actually what ruined it was the Israeli refusal to recognize the Palestinian right of return.” Recently, he asserted, “the Saudis have a problem with Iran, and the Palestinian case is not important anymore, which worries the Palestinians a lot.”
Last week, The Israeli chess team applied to participate in the World Chess Championship in Riyadh next month.
The seven Israeli players are waiting for Saudi approval of their visa applications to enter the kingdom – a move that would broadcast to the world Saudi Arabia’s radical change of attitude to Israel.