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Geostrategy-Direct, www.geostrategy-direct.com, November 8, 2006

ABU DHABI – Hizbullah has become the rage in Sunni Gulf states.

Take Saudi Arabia, ruled by the sternest of Sunnis. In the Saudi port of
Jeddah, the hottest product is a brand of fireworks called “Hizbullah.”

Yemeni traders hawk a rocket that measures a meter and sells for about $40.
The firework explodes like dynamite and emits a rainbow of colors. A smaller
version is called “Bin Laden.”

Saudi authorities have banned the Hizbullah fireworks as too dangerous. But
that hasn’t stopped thousands of Hizbullahs – produced in China – from being
ignited throughout Jeddah on Ramadan nights.

In the aftermath of its war with Israel, Hizbullah has become a hit in the
Gulf Cooperation Council. To Sunni youngsters, Shi’ite Hizbullah represents
the promise of Muslim strength.

“The recent war in Lebanon could become a significant factor leading to a
transformation within the Salafi movement in the Arab world,” said Abdul
Hameed Bakier, a researcher for the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation.

“The conflict may also have a similar impact on Salafis as did the Gulf War
of 1991.”

Bakier envisions a crisis within the Sunni Al Qaida network as supporters
question Hizbullah’s success. The Hizbullah capabilities have also alarmed
GCC states, particularly Saudi Arabia, which fears a revived insurgency
campaign.

The Hizbullah success in the Sunni Arab world comes after Saudi Arabia
managed to quell Al Qaida strikes. Islamic sources said Saudi authorities
killed senior Al Qaida operatives while co-opting their religious guides,
who in some cases ended up opposing the movement they helped found.

As a result, Sunni Islamists have been split over Israel and the United
States. Traditional so-called Salafis support Arab policy that says a truce
with Israel was permissible.

“Resorting to peace, reconciliation or political and peaceful solutions with
the Jews is needed at this time for the lack of Islamic might to liberate by
force what is righteously theirs,” said Sheik Abdul Mohsen Al Obeikan, a
leading conservative cleric.

But Hizbullah success in the war against Israel has undermined the
conservative Salafi position supported by the Saudi royal family. Islamic
sources said over the past few weeks, Hizbullah Secretary-general Hassan
Nasrallah has become more popular among Sunnis than Bin Laden.

“The analogy was that Nasrallah is a nationalist leader with political
legitimacy who is fighting the direct enemy Israel,” Bakier said in a report
for Jamestown. “Bin Laden, on the other hand, is a global leader who is
fighting the indirect enemy, the United States, without credible political
justifications.”

Al Qaida and satellite groups have responded by expressing greater
belligerence against Israel. Al Qaida’s No. 2 Ayman Zawahiri, in a message
on Sept. 11, urged Muslims to fight the “Zionists and crusaders.”

“The conservative center-wing faction has refused to support Hizbullah and
the Shi’ites, while the more traditional center-wing faction has supported
Hizbullah in its latest conflict with Israel,” the Jamestown report said.
“The division in the center-wing was manifested in a fatwa issued by Nasser
Al Omar prohibiting support for Hizbullah.”

Al Qaida publicists have urged supporters to adopt Hizbullah’s tactics while
warning of the Iranian takeover of the Middle East. An article published in
the London-based Al Bayan magazine is entitled, “Let’s Be Frank, Salafi is
the Last Defense Line.” In it, Hizbullah is portrayed as a tool of Iran and
Syria.

“With each new conflict in the Middle East, the Salafi movement has
experienced divisions, which have created new strains within the movement,”
Bakier said. “Yet, as each new strain forms, it becomes more radical in
nature and closely resembles the ideology of the Salafi-Jihadis. The
conflict in Lebanon furthered this trend, and the intensifying sectarian
violence in Iraq between Sunnis and Shiites is also playing an important
role that will only increase tension over time.”

“It is likely that this increase will result in added strength to the
Salafi-Jihadi movement and this may cause severe security problems for the
Gulf States when these veteran Salafi-Jihadis begin returning to their home
countries,” Bakier added.

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