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The Middle East Aflame
Sectarian War in Saudi Arabia?

After ISIS struck two Shi’a mosques in Saudi Arabia with suicide bombs, the worst sectarian violence the Kingdom has seen in recent times, Saudi authorities have begun a security crackdown in the country’s Eastern Province. But that hasn’t reassured the country’s minority Shi’a population, who are now forming militias for protection. In turn, the authorities are alarmed by these volunteers, and report that some are already being arrested. In the midst of the Saudi war on the Shi’a Houthi in Yemen, anti-Shi’a sentiment within the Kingdom is on the rise. ISIS is making use of that feeling to recruit; as one expert put it, “Rather than going after foreigners in well-defended compounds, [young Saudis] are blowing up fellow Saudis, who happen to be Shia.”

When ISIS struck Saudi Arabia two weeks ago, we noted that, “An attack like this both strengthens ISIS’ claim to be a pan-Sunni, anti-Shi’a “defense” force and sows division within what ISIS would see as a rival for the leadership of the Sunni world, Saudi Arabia.” The development of the Shi’a militias would appear to show the early success of that strategy. Divide et impera is a universal principle, after all—and ISIS has thrived since its beginning on ethnic strife.

The dark hopes of groups like ISIS for a region-wide sectarian war have been having a good run lately, with local forces separating into religious camps from Syria to Yemen. In the absence of an American-guaranteed regional balance of power, such patterns are likely to continue. The President has been focused solely on securing an Iran nuclear deal for some time now, convinced that all the cards will fall the right way from there. But what if the sectarian strife continues afterward—or, as is likely, actually intensifies in the wake of Iranian sanctions relief?

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  • Arkeygeezer

    “In the absence of an American-guaranteed regional balance of power, such patterns are likely to continue.”

    The only way to get “an American-guaranteed regional balance of power” would be to invade the place on the ground and force the people of the region to observe our social standards. That’s not going to happen! The American people will not stand for a re-invasion of Iraq or Syria by American ground troops.

  • megapotamus

    Am I the only one that shares the ‘dark hope’ of a Shia/Sunni war? Recall that the GWOT was conceived to ‘fight ’em over there’ rather than here…. The Flypaper Strategy. But wouldn’t it be even better if they fought each other over there? Sure, there are some downsides but mostly they are energy related for us. Domestic production can easily make them moot. A policy truly and pragmatically oriented towards US interests would foment and encourage hostilities between Shia and Sunni, materially aiding either side with perfect indifference to their relative merits, as they have none. We should aid the weaker in all these conflicts, withdrawing that aid only when the weaker threatens to swamp the formerly stronger, bringing the shooting to a conclusion. Peace in the Middle East is our enemy, not our friend. Give war a chance. At the least we will have fewer jihadis tomorrow than we would otherwise expect. Forward.

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