The Saudi town of Awamiya — like so many countless cities across Iraq, Syria and Yemen that are witnessing an unleashing of the ancient hatred of Sunni for Shia — now exists in name only. Last month, days before an assault on its Shia inhabitants by the Saudi regime, the UN designated it a place of unique cultural and religious significance. But under the guise of fighting Iran-backed terror cells, the Saudis then subjected Awamiya’s entire civilian population to the indiscriminate use of fighter jets, rocket-propelled grenades, snipers, heavy artillery, armoured assault vehicles and cold-blooded executions.
More than a dozen Shia, including a three-year-old boy, were killed. Hundreds of young men were rounded up. At least 500 homes were flattened, and 8,000 residents were forcibly removed from those that remained. Saudi soldiers recorded themselves dancing and singing amid the rubble of the town’s once-beautiful old city. They stomped on a poster of a revered Shia cleric from the eastern province, Nimr al-Nimr, beheaded last year for sedition. And they denigrated the town’s ‘cleansed’ local Shia as ‘rejectionists’ and ‘dogs’ — language identical to that of their fanatical Wahhabi brothers in Iraq and Syria, who rejoice in slaughtering Shia in the name of Isis. The mass beheading of 14 local Shia activists, including a severely disabled teenager, is said to be imminent.
In the wake of this sectarian carnage it seems preposterous that Donald Trump stood next to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in Riyadh in May at the launch of a new centre to combat Islamic extremism. In a keynote speech, Trump had, just as bizarrely, singled out Iran and its Shia proxies as the instigators of terrorism and sectarian bloodshed in the region. In the past, such Saudi duplicity was laughed off in the name of selling the infantile princes billions of dollars in arms (from which they take massive kickbacks) and heightening their borderline-insane obsession with the supposedly existential threat posed by Iran to Israel and the latter’s despotic Sunni allies.
The joke isn’t funny any more. Last month, the former head of MI5, Jonathan Evans, warned that Britain will face an Islamist terror threat for at least 30 years. Only the most blinkered observer would find it difficult to understand his concern. For with the near fall of Isis, thousands of jihadis steeped in the caliphate’s Wahhabi ideology are returning to Britain and Europe, determined to keep alive the dream of massacring infidels. It is our own civilisation that faces the real existential threat. The wave of terror attacks in Spain, Finland, Britain and Belgium has happened in a year in which Europe has witnessed at least one serious jihadist incident every week.
A recent report, suppressed by the UK government, revealed the majority of funding for UK mosques that promote Islamist extremism, and which play a crucial role in radicalising homegrown jihadis, originates from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab countries that also embrace the odious Wahhabi ideology. These findings tally with other exhaustive studies on the expansion of Islamist extremism, both here and in Europe, which have singled out the spread of Saudi-sponsored Wahhabism as the gravest threat to our security and values. All were similarly ignored by those who rule in our name.
Saudi Arabia is thus being given the green light by our treacherous political elite to ensure that, as the dream of the caliphate in the Middle East fades, murderous jihad will grow with increasing fury on our doorstep. The argument that intelligence from Saudi Arabia helps prevent attacks sounds increasingly hollow, given how many terrorist acts are being carried out regardless. The defeatist rhetoric about how jihadist atrocities are something we must learn to live with, like mudslides and hurricanes, is no less infuriating. Terror attacks are not a natural phenomenon; they are the result of circumstances fomented by politicians’ decisions. If we have any hope of combating the Islamist menace, politicians must wake up, first and foremost, to the fact that mass immigration of mostly young Muslim men into a Europe where Saudi-funded Wahhabi Islam dominates mosques and madrassas is cultural suicide. Political understanding of the Sunni-Shia conflict in the Middle East, and how that relates to the Islamist terror threat, must likewise be re-evaluated. The atrocities in Awamiya demonstrate nothing if not the absurdity of the notion that the Wahhabis are our friends in the fight against extremism and that the Shia are our mortal enemies. By any objective measure, the exact opposite is true.
Like Saudi Arabia, Shia-dominated Iran is a backward theocracy ruled by vicious old men who wrap themselves in the cloak of religion to limit their people’s freedom and steal their country’s wealth. Both countries are gross human rights abusers. There, though, the similarities end. In Saudi Arabia, non-Muslims are forbidden from practising their religion in public, while Iran’s constitution protects the rights of Christians and Jews. (One of my fondest memories of the region is hanging out with the Jewish communities in Tehran and Isfahan.)
Like the Jews, and very much unlike the Wahhabis, the Shias have no interest in converting everyone else to their religion; and the Iranians even have the decency — if that is the right word — to distinguish between Israel and Jews in anti-Zionist government rhetoric. Saudi Arabia promotes the kind of anti-Semitism the Nazis would have been proud of, while damning the Shia as collectively evil. Iran has a democracy and a vibrant press that, while hardly comparable to what we take for granted in the West, puts to shame anything found in Saudi Arabia. Iran has never invaded another country; Saudi Arabia is presently destroying Yemen.
Moreover, when geopolitical pragmatism has dictated, Iran has offered to work closely with the West, while at every turn, by funding its jihadist proxies, the Saudis and their allies in the western intelligence communities have been working against us. After the September 11 attacks, carried out by mostly Saudi nationals, Iran — which of course has no sympathy for al-Qaeda — rounded up hundreds of Arab terrorists and provided intelligence to Washington to aid the war on terror. In 2009, Tehran was publicly offering to help Washington rebuild and stabilise Afghanistan; two years earlier, both countries held (ultimately unproductive) talks on Iraq.
None of that is to mention the elephant in the room. Without the heroic military sacrifices of Iran and its Shia ally, Hezbollah, on the front lines in the crumbling caliphate, Isis would not today be in its final death throes there, and al-Qaeda jihadists (whom we funded, trained and armed) would not be running for their lives. The US has also worked alongside Iranian generals in Iraq in the joint fight there against Isis. Even today, US special forces are working with the Lebanese army as it launches a simultaneous push with Hezbollah against Islamist terrorists created by Saudi and other Sunni countries that are still causing mayhem on the other side of the Syrian border.
Why do we never hear this other side of the story? One reason is that almost all the ‘experts’ on the region, who contribute countless op-eds to US newspapers, brief US intelligence officials and appear as pundits on TV, work for think-tanks funded by the Arab monarchies or Israel. Former British and American diplomats who were based in Riyadh and Jeddah are notorious for retiring on the Saudi gravy train. And our Foreign Office, as always taking its orders from Washington, continues to stand uncritically alongside Israel. The latter fears the mullahs in Tehran are building a nuclear arsenal to make good on its repeated promise to wipe the Jewish state off the map.
But here, again, a pragmatic reassess-ment is in order. Israel, after all, is a nuclear power, and has the best-trained and equipped army in the region. If it cannot fight its own battles now, it will never be able to. And truth be told, the only thing the mullahs really care about is maintaining their rusty grip on power. Even the Iran-hating, Israel-loving White House grudgingly accepts that Tehran is abiding by the internationally brokered nuclear treaty. The bottom line is that Iran poses absolutely no threat to us.
In fact, the only people that Isis foot soldiers are more determined to slaughter than westerners are the Shia. With that knowledge, we should be embracing the maxim that my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Let us fully let the Saudis know we have had it with their terror funding by launching a ferocious crackdown on all manifestations of Wahhabism. Let us simultaneously do away with the sanctions imposed against Tehran. In this way, we can build on Iran’s extensive shared intelligence and close military cooperation with the US — the most effective way of convincing the country to abandon any lingering nuclear ambitions it may have. Let Britain finally break free of Washington’s disastrous Middle East military interventions and duplicitous alliances with Saudi Arabia and its Wahhabi proxies. Only by doing so can we face down the real causes of Islamist terror. We would also be in prime position to benefit from post-sanctions Iran’s $600 billion foreign investment opportunities.