From intelligence sharing to operational cooperation, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are partners in the fight against global terror. But they disagree about who the enemy is. President-elect Trump has a chance to correct this problem and he should do so quickly to improve the world’s chances of finally defeating terrorism.
The U.S. and a Saudi-led coalition of 40 Islamic states agree that Sunni-aligned Al-Qaeda and ISIS are terror organizations. But they disagree about the terrorist status of Shiite groups such as the Lebanese Resistance Brigades, the Sayed Al-Shouhada Battalions, the Al-Quds Brigade and the Abu Al-Fadl Al- Abbas Brigade as well as several other Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria led by Iranian revolutionary guard.
The Arab-Muslim world classifies them as terrorists. For some reason, Western governments don’t. They must change their minds to make real inroads against the terror threat.
There is no difference between terrorist attacks perpetrated by Al-Qaeda or Shiite groups. The violent outcomes of ideological extremists, whatever their origins, are identical. The Western tendency to deal with the same behavior differently depending on the sect involved is hypocritical and dangerous. It only strengthens the belief in the Muslim world that there’s a Western conspiracy against the region’s non-violent Sunni Muslim majority.
Too many people in the Middle East already believe that the Obama administration has tolerated state-sponsored terrorism and terrorist activities backed by the Iranian regime and its Shiite proxies.
A Trump administration, on the other hand, could change the game completely by calling out terrorists for who they are. The incoming administration should designate all Shiite violent extremists as terror organizations.
Washington has all the evidence it needs to do so. Iran has bragged about the formation of Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria, as well as the deployment of vast numbers of mercenaries from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tehran has also admitted supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen and terrorist groups in Bahrain, Kuwait, Nigeria and Eastern Saudi Arabia.
On top of that, the Iranian regime played a key role in the formation of the so-called Shiite Liberation Army in Iraq, which has done all it could to hijack the political life and create a patchwork of ideological, ethnic and sectarian conflicts. In Syria, Shiite-aligned fighters have been ravaging the country, creating a humanitarian crisis that is almost beyond belief.
Another example in Iraq is the Popular Mobilization Forces (a k a the Hashd al-Shaabi), which is a state-sponsored, Iran-backed militia group ostensibly created to fight ISIS. But it and its proxy Shiite militias are well known for their brutal sectarian activities that are indistinguishable from those carried out by ISIS. Indeed, the very existence of the Popular Mobilization Forces is evidence of publicly expressed Iranian intentions to establish bases in other parts of the Middle East.
The group is one of many examples of the abject failure of U.S. policy toward Iran and its failure to contain Iranian hostility in the region. The West has promoted Iranian-backed terrorism through willful neglect of the facts on the ground.
The elimination of terrorist organizations requires an agreed-upon definition of terrorism that deals with terrorist groups without discrimination and selectivity. The U.S. should follow the lead of the Arab Gulf States and Arab countries in general toward terrorism. They are dedicated to countering terrorism and finding solutions for extremism and sectarianism in the region wherever it comes from.
These countries have been trustworthy partners of Washington in the war on terror. In order to make further progress, however, the West needs to have a more consistent, non-sectarian and non-selective policy on fighting terror threats. In addition, a solution of the Syrian crisis would be an important step to eliminate extremism. This can be achieved only through decisive action to drive all non-state actors out of the country.
The collaboration of the next U.S. presidential administration with Arab countries will be the key factor in resolving Middle East crises and restoring regional stability. President-elect Trump should broaden the U.S. terror designation to all groups that commit acts of violence, regardless of sect.
Opinions in this article reflect the writer’s point of view, not necessarily the view of The Arabain GCIS