Arab League condemns Iran, calls Hizbullah 'terrorist group'

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

Arab foreign ministers convened for an emergency meeting of the Arab League on Sunday (November 19th) to discuss Iran's interference in Arab affairs. [Photo courtesy of the Middle East News Agency]

Arab foreign ministers convened for an emergency meeting of the Arab League on Sunday (November 19th) to discuss Iran's interference in Arab affairs. [Photo courtesy of the Middle East News Agency]

Iran has become an imminent threat to Arab countries through constant meddling in their affairs and regional deployment of proxy groups, Arab foreign ministers said at an emergency general meeting of the Arab League Sunday (November 19th).

The meeting comes as tensions rise between Saudi Arabia and Iran, including over League member Lebanon.

The ministers' closing statement referred to Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hizbullah as a "terrorist group".

Riyadh called the ministerial meeting in Cairo to discuss "violations" by Iran after a missile was intercepted near the Saudi capital in a November 4th attack claimed by the Houthis (Ansarallah) in Yemen, AFP reported.

Strong condemnations

In a resolution, the League issued a "strong condemnation" of this incident, saying it was a "blatant aggression against the kingdom and a threat to Arab national security".

The League ministers affirmed Riyadh's right to defend its territory and said they would support all legitimate procedures it might take "against these Iranian violations".

They also tasked "the Arab Group in New York to address the Security Council president to clarify Iranian violations" of a UN Security Council resolution on Tehran's ballistic missiles programme.

"The missile fired by the Houthis at Saudi Arabia is the most serious incident in a series of transgressions, subversions and spread of sectarian strife by Iran in the region," Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit said at the meeting.

"We have no choice but to call things by their names and say that the missile is a clear message from Iran that it seeks to spread subversion, strife and hatred," he said.

"There are proven incidents of spying networks and sabotage whose destructive actions were uncovered," including in the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan, he said.

"And there are proven incidents of support and financing of armed militias in more than one place in the Arab world," he added.

Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa said "Iran's biggest arm in the region at the moment is the terrorist Hizbullah arm".

He added that Hizbullah "does not just carry out operations inside the borders of (Lebanon), it also crosses its borders to all of our nations", making it "a threat to Arab national security".

In the resolution, the Arab ministers said they would hold Hizbullah "responsible for supporting terrorism and terrorist organisations in Arab countries with modern weapons and ballistic missiles".

'Patience has run out'

"The call by [Saudi Arabia] for a meeting of Arab foreign ministers is a strong message directed at Iran," said Al-Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies researcher Fathi al-Sayed, who specialises in Iranian affairs.

The emergency meeting sends a clear message at Iran that "patience has run out" and that it must back off before regional tensions further escalate, he told Al-Mashareq.

He noted that the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt convened before the Arab League meeting, which confirms these countries' resolve in stemming Iranian expansion.

"While the closing statement issued by the meeting was explicit in regard to confronting Iran's interference in the region, it was couched in diplomatic language that maintains the minimum level of calm," said Hani Khallaf, former Egyptian ambassador to the Arab League.

The statement does not lend itself to military action, as it insisted on good-neighbourly relations and called on Iran to distance itself from Yemen and Lebanon, he told Al-Mashareq.

"This is an opportunity for Iran to back down from its regional ambitions," he said.

Khallaf described the closing statement as wise in light of the soaring tensions that currently prevail in the region.

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