Sun, 26 Jan 2020

MANAMA, Bahrain - This week's designation by the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) of Hezbollah as a terrorist group is seen as part of a process by Arab nations to align themselves with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the past 3 years has been overseeing back channel discussions with many Gulf states including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. He believes Arab nations share his country's disdain of Iran and recently has hinted strongly that an alliance is in the wings. He confirmed last month a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not part of the discussions and did not pose a hurdle to Arab countries establishing diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

Hezbollah, a Lebanese resistance group has long been designated a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States and a handful of other countries. In 2013 they were joined by the European Union after strong representations from members of Congress, and helped along by a May 2012 bus bombing in Bulgaria which was blamed on Hezbollah's military wing.

The King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa has been leading the charge against Hezbollah and now wants the GCC move matched by the Arab League. On Thursday, according to The Jerusalem Post, the king told a visiting rabbi that in his opinion it is just a matter of time before some Arab countries begin establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, an interfaith activist and president of the Foundation of Ethnic Understanding located in New York, met with King Al Khalifa in the Royal Palace in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, on Thursday.

He spoke of his meeting to the Post after the meeting. He said the king had told him some Arab states wanted to designate the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist group and not the organization as a whole as Israel and the United States has done. However the GCC in the end decided to designate all of Hezbollah which comprises the resistance arm, the political structure, the military wing and its sweeping humanitarian infrastructure which includes a number of hospitals, health clinics, schools, agricultural and environment centers. The GCC move is out of step with the European Union, Australia, the UK and New Zealand which have only labelled the military wing as terrorist, which Israel has been critical of. "As far as the State of Israel is concerned, Hezbollah is one organization, the arms of which are indistinguishable," Mr Netanyahu said when the EU brought down its decision in 2013.

Schneier told The Jerusalem Post the shared enmity held by the Gulf Arab states and Israel against Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors should be seized as an opportunity to create an alliance with countries that have formerly been hostile to Israel.

"Iran is not only an obstacle but an opportunity for peace between Israel and Arab nations," he told the Post.

"Both Israel and the Gulf states share a common enemy, so it's the makings of a natural alliance, in terms of joining forces against the evil of terrorism, religious extremism and fanaticism.

"It's a real opportunity and a silver lining in the dark cloud of terror. The Gulf states recognize Israel as an ally against Iran, and its ability to stabilize the region and support moderate Arab countries, so this could be a game changer in the geopolitical climate of the Middle East," he said.

Schneier noted that Israel had the power to defend not only itself but the voices of moderation and the moderate Arab states in the region.

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