Network Map of the Mideast

People form social networks. Business networks are composed of organizations. Nations also create connections — political and economic ties — to meet mutual goals. Below we see network maps of international players who have interests in the Mideast. Nations are shown by rectangular nodes, non-state actors are shown as ovals. Nodes connected with gray links show positive political/economic relationships (friends). Negative political/economic relationships (foes) have no links connecting them, but do have a repelling force that pushes the nodes apart.

The maps above were recently updated to reflect the increasing tension between the Sunni and the Shia spilling out of Iraq and infecting the whole Mideast. Also, look at who is caught in middle… what will China, India and Russia do?

The second map reflects the geographic connections in the region — two countries are connected if they share a border. The red nodes are shaded by the concentration of Sunni or Shia Muslims in the country. The darker the color the higher the proportion of Sunnis. The lighter the color the higher the concentration of Shia Muslims. The purple nodes show a country dominated by a different sect of Islam [Wahhabi, Ibadhi]. The blue nodes show countries where Muslims are less than 15% of the population.

There are no repelling forces in the model below.  When comparing the two maps, can we see Israel’s predicament?

The case of Hizbollah
This approach of targeting terrorist organizations for their criminal activity could pay especially large dividends when it comes to Hizbollah. The United States and many of its allies, particularly the Europeans, disagree on whether or not Hizbollah is a terrorist organization. There is far more agreement, however, that Hizbollah’s global criminal activities and infrastructure pose a serious problem and need to be addressed.

To date, the European Union has not designated any part of Hizbollah as a terrorist organization, although the EU included Hizbollah members involved in specific acts of terrorism, such as Imad Mughniyeh, on its terrorism list. Even the United States’ closest ally, the United Kingdom, has been reluctant to treat Hizbollah as a terrorist group. In March 2009, the United Kingdom announced that it was reviving dialogue with the political wing of Hizbollah. Unlike the United States, which has blacklisted the entire Hizbollah organization, the United Kingdom has banned only Hizbollah’s terrorist (External Security Organization) and military wings. The ban on the terrorist wing began in 2000, while the ban on the military wing followed Hizbollah’s June 2008 decision to increase its support to Iraqi and Palestinian militants.

The inherent challenge in developing an international consensus on the definition of terrorism is highlighted by enduring debates at the United Nations, which tend to devolve into semantic arguments over the distinction
between “terrorist” and “freedom fighter.” Even the United States and its European allies encounter disagreement. For example, Europe has yet to designate Hizbollah as a terrorist group because of the organization’s activity in the Lebanese political arena. Many European officials argue that Hizbollah, which is a part of the Lebanese government, is now on the path to becoming a legitimate political party, and that the designation would backfire and reverse this progress.

Despite the differences between U.S. and European perceptions of and policies toward Hizbollah, there is one critical area where all parties’ interests converge: law enforcement. The United States and its European counterparts have a particularly strong interest in combating Hizbollah’s burgeoning role in illicit drug trafficking. Regardless of divergent political considerations or varying definitions of terrorism, combating crime and enforcing sovereign laws are straightforward issues. Of all Islamic groups, Hizbollah has the longest record of engaging in criminal activity to support its activities. While Hizbollah is involved in a wide variety of criminal activities, its role in the production and trafficking of narcotics is particularly salient. Hizbollah has capitalized on the vast Lebanese Shi’a expatriate population, mainly located in South America and Africa. With its strong presence in Africa, Hizbollah has been able to utilize the continent as a strategic location from which to raise and transfer funds and to engage in such criminal enterprises as diamond smuggling.

Iran and The China Connection

The Iranian government consists of a supreme leader Ali Hoseyni Khāmene’i and its president Mahmoud  Ahmadinejad. Khāmene’i provides spiritual and political guidance through interpretations of Islamic law. Since there are two schools of Islamic thought that interpret the message of their founder Mohammed, Shi’a and Sunni, Iran is predominantly Shi’a and adheres to a liberal interpretation of Islamic law. This interpretation has created conflict within the Arab world because the Sunnis, who abide by a more traditional interpretation of Islamic law, make up 85% of Muslims worldwide.

Government Distrust – There is distrust of the Iranian government especially from its people. Many believe the government is using aggressive and violent means to stay in power, including using bullets and batons as it did during a holy day demonstration on December 27, 2009 in Iran’s capital, Tehran. The government inflicts brutality against its people in order to gain control of the nation.

Creating Conflict – How the Iranian Government Stays in Power
Even when the majority of the Muslim world is Sunni and there is international pressure, the Iranian government is determined to stay in power by any means. They maintain political ties to Palestine, a Sunni stronghold. The Iranian government has repeatedly denounced the US, UK and Israel, even making anti-Semitic references about the existence of the Holocaust and Israeli expansionist policies. There are claims that the Iranian government supports Shi’a extremists, but what is unusual is its “unorthodox” relationship with Sunni extremists. These extremists have been blamed on recent terrorist attacks.

If these attacks continue, the Middle East continues its position as one of the most unstable and dangerous places to live. In other words, the Iranian government, a Shi’a safeguard, supports both Shi’a and Sunni extremist policies in an attempt to continue the area’s violence and to choke-hold its citizens. Creating an environment of violence tends to keep leaders in power. This tactic was used by the Nazi regime that controlled its citizenry by creating and inciting chaos. The same tactic is occurring today in Iran.

Iran as Double Agent – Iran and China share concerns over radical Sunni Muslims. Most Iranians follow the rival Shi’a strain of Islam. Since China has more than 20 million Muslims, the government has been facing Muslim unrest in some of its western cities. The dissidents receive support from Sunni Islamic groups in Afghanistan and the countries of former Soviet Central Asia. Iran carefully suppresses Sunni expansion in the areas that border China, thus solidifying its relationship with China, which provides Iran support from any hostile nation. But Iran supports Sunni uprisings in most of the areas between Iran and China to create an atmosphere of chaos and to keep the Iranian leaders in power. An organized Sunni rival would disrupt a Shi’a theocracy like Iran.


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