Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have called on Arab countries to unite and confront Iran over its role in regional conflicts and its alleged support for militias.
Speaking at an emergency session of the Arab League in Cairo on Sunday, Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi foreign minister, said Iran was aiming “to destabilise and fuel sectarian rift” in the region “and to drive a wedge between ourselves and our people”.
“This swift response reflects the gravity of the situation our countries are facing … as a result of the ballistic missiles violations of Iran and the blunt interference in the domestic affairs of Arab countries,” said al-Jubeir.
The special summit in the Egyptian capital was requested by Saudi Arabia to discuss alleged “violations” committed by Iran in the Arab region.
It comes amid heightened tensions in the Arab world following the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who cited Iranian intervention in his country through Hezbollah, Iran’s ally in Lebanon.
Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s foreign minister, said his country had been inflicted by “thousands of wounds” by Iran.
“Iran has arms in the region, the largest of which is Hezbollah,” he said, adding that Iran threatened the security of Arab states.
Bahrain has seen scores of incidents of violence since 2011 when tens of thousands of the country’s majority Shia Muslims demanded reforms and greater rights from the minority Sunni-controlled kingdom.
Bahrain crushed the protests with the help of its Sunni Arab Gulf allies suspicious of Iran and opposed to a growing Shia influence across the region.
In the final statement, the Arab foreign ministers referred to Hezbollah as a “terrorist organisation”.
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit told the summit that a missile that was recently fired by Houthi rebels from Yemen towards the Saudi capital, Riyadh, was “Iranian-made”, describing it as an “unacceptable Iranian message”.
The Houthis have repeatedly denied receiving any assistance from Tehran in Yemen’s war, claiming the Burkan 2-H missile was produced in Yemen from modified weaponry.
On Saturday, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said on Twitter in Arabic that he had submitted a letter to the United Nations in which he urged the implementation of a previous four-point plan to solve to what he called the “tragic situation in Yemen”, where Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition to defeat the Houthi rebels.
Despite being mired in the war for more than two years, the coalition has so far failed to achieve its stated aims as Houthi rebels continue to hold the capital, Sanaa and control the country’s north.
The war has taken a huge toll on the country – more than 10,000 civilians have been killed, and millions of Yemenis have been left without basic necessities.
Fatemeh Aman, an Iranian-American political analyst, said Zarif’s letter could be used to “improve Iran’s badly-damaged image” at a time when Saudi Arabia is also “facing a progressively deteriorating image”, especially due to its foreign policy.
“If, in coming days, [the] Lebanon crisis … [led] to more unpleasant revelation about Saudi’s intentions, one could expect more scrutiny of the Yemen policy by the international community. In such environment Zarif’s letters could gain more significance and increase pressure on Saudis.”
‘Divided Arab region’
Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have soared since Hariri’s shock resignation on November 4, citing Iran’s “grip” on his country and threats to his life.
Lebanon’s foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, did not attend the Cairo meeting. Antoine Azzam, the country’s representative to the Arab League, sat in for the summit instead.
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, said Saudi Arabia had convened the Cairo meeting in a bid to “consolidate its position in a divided Arab region”, hoping that there will condemnation of Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as of the Houthis.
“The Arab world is divided and a lot of countries convened to Cairo today don’t see eye to eye with Saudi Arabia on its ways and means or how it plans to confront Iran in the region,” he said.
“That doesn’t mean they agree to the escalation of Iranian interference in various Arab countries, but paradoxically it was the incompetence and the division among those Arab countries that was the main factor why Iran is able to expand its influence in the region,” added Bishara.