Former Israel Consul General to Chicago, former Israel Consul General to Miami and former Deputy Mayor of Netanya Yitzchak Ben Gad explained the root of the recent tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Photo Credit: Shabnam Assadollahi

In an exclusive interview with JerusalemOnline, Former Israel Consul General to Chicago, former Israel Consul General to Miami and former Deputy Mayor of Netanya Yitzchak Ben Gad related to the recent tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, stressing that it has two aspects to it: “First, there is the religious aspect. The Saudis are Sunni and the Iranians are Shia. The conflict between the Sunnis and Shias began in 680 AD. Then, Ali and his two sons got killed and they belonged to the family of the Prophet Muhammed. The Shias claim that the leadership in the Islamic world was stolen from them for only the Shias from the family of Muhammed should lead. The other Muslims said no, the leader of the Islamic world doesn’t have to be from the family of the Prophet Muhammed.”

“We have to remember that today the Shia Muslim community is about 10 to 15 percent of the Arab world,” Ben Gad related. “The Sunnis are 85-90 percent. There are 57 Islamic states. About 90 percent are Sunni. Now the Shias are mainly in Iran, part of Iraq, a small part of Saudi Arabia and of course, the Alawites in Syria and in Southern Lebanon with Hezbollah, who are Shia. This conflict between the Sunnis and Shias ripped apart the Muslim world. This is one aspect.”

According to Ben Gad, the second aspect is political: “Who will be the leader of the Islamic world? Of course, Saudi Arabia considers themselves to be the leader of the Islamic world due to the fact that the Kaaba is in Mecca, not Iran. Saudi Arabia is a rich country with exports of 12 million barrels of oil per day. Being Sunnis, they are supported by most of the Arab countries like Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, the Emirates, Kuwait, and Iran is supported by a very small minority in Lebanon and the Assad regime in Syria.”

Ben Gad emphasized that there is now a war between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia: “Saudi Arabia executed Nimr Al Nimr, the Iranian leader who incited the people in Saudi Arabia to revolt against the Saudi regime. As a result of that action, the Iranians attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and burned it down. Afterwards, Saudi Arabia cut off their diplomatic and commercial relations with Iran. They were joined by other Arab countries who either cut off the diplomatic relations or lowered the level of diplomatic relations. No doubt, Iran today is in a kind of splendid isolation in the Arab world.”

Ben Gad believes that the Saudi-Iranian tensions are reminiscent of the struggle between the Persian Empire and the Arab world in past generations: “But the Iranians are acting with their long hand of terror outstretched against the Arab world in general and Saudi Arabia in particular. For example, they are supporting in Yemen the Shia Houthis minority.  They support them with money and weapons. They want them to overthrow the government, which was supported by Saudi Arabia. They kicked out the president, who was elected democratically. Since then, the big war there is between the Houthis supported by Iran and the majority supported by Saudi Arabia. Many people have died there.”

But the Iranian threat to Saudi Arabia extends far beyond Yemen: “More than that, Iran is acting to control Iraq using the Shias. It is a very rich oil country. Not to mention the war in Syria, where they support the Assad regime who are Alawites, a sect of Shias, while the Saudis want Assad kicked out and to let the Syrian people who are 85 percent Sunni to elect the leader of the country democratically, something Iran will not accept.”

Ben Gad noted that the Iranians don’t only threaten Saudi Arabia but also the State of Israel: “Iran is supporting Hezbollah and sent to Hezbollah tens of thousands of Iranian missiles. No wonder Saudi Arabia considers Iran today as an enemy and acts accordingly. We now live in the Middle East in this chaos. The Arab Spring became a terrible Arab winter. There is also change in the American policy in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia was a traditional ally for many years of the US. All of the presidents after WWII until five or six years ago considered them a US ally until the presidency of Barack Obama, who shifted the American policy and supported Iran by signing the nuclear agreement with Iran, thus shifting away from their traditional policy of friendship between Saudi Arabia and the US. Israel opposed the agreement openly while the Saudis did so secretly. Saudi Arabia does not trust any more the administration of Barack Obama.”

According to Ben Gad, this shift in US policy only encourages Iran to promote a terrorist policy against Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and other countries: “So the whole situation now is quite complicated. The Iranians won’t change their traditional policy of being liars, deceivers and acting against the resolutions of the UN Security Council. Unfortunately, this nuclear agreement that was signed in July of last year in my opinion won’t only not solve the problem of having nuclear Iran but maybe the opposite. It will encourage the Iranians to continue their aggression against other peoples, to continue their terrorism in other countries including in Latin America and to make a long story short, it looks like there is never a dull moment in the Middle East. Something is cooking here.”

In conclusion, Ben Gad described the present situation in the Middle East by referring to a joke: “There was a British general who came to Iraq. He asked why it is so hot here. They told him it was to grow the dates. He said to cut down the date trees. They told him, ‘Wait a second, you cut down the trees and you solve the heat problem?’ He responded that the Middle East does not follow logic. Many wars broke out here without warning, like the Six Days War, like the Yom Kippur War, like the Second Lebanon War, and like the war against Hamas last year. No one expected it. To the contrary, most commentators said there will be no war for Hamas is not interested in causing trouble.”

Ben Gad hinted this unpredictable situation in the Middle East also affects the Lebanese front: “This week, a Hezbollah member said that the Russians are supplying them with new and very sophisticated weapons. We know that the Russians supplied Iran with S-300 anti-tank missiles. Now, these S-300 are very sophisticated and endangers the Israeli Air Force that flies over Lebanon. Now just imagine these missiles in the hands of Hezbollah and they will use them against our pilots. If that happens and a disaster occurs, that will be the cause belli for war between Israel and Hezbollah. If G-d forbid one of our pilots is taken prisoner; that will be enough reason to attack Lebanon. Then we can expect missiles. We live in a complicated situation. The question is not if war breaks but when? We live in a tough neighborhood and Moses who used to stutter when he asked which country he wants stated Canaan instead of Canada. Canada would have been much better.”

Nevertheless, despite all of Israel’s problems, Ben Gad related that when Chaim Weizmann met with Winston Churchill, Churchill tried to convince Weizmann not to bother with Palestine and to go to Uganda instead as Palestine “is a small country with many swamps and many Arabs that don’t want you.” He claimed that Uganda at that time did not have many swamps, had more land and not so many people. However, Weizmann asked Churchill why he drove a great distance to take his mother to church instead of adopting an elderly lady nearby and taking her to church instead. Churchill naturally replied that he did it because that other elderly lady nearby was not his mother. Weizmann explained that for the same reason that Churchill drove a great distance to take his mother to church, the Jewish people wanted only Palestine as only this land is their homeland.