World Jewish Congress VP Rabbi Marc Schneier has been received in the Gulf state of Bahrain by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to discuss regional concerns in the Middle East.
The King of Bahrain has reportedly recommended that the recent designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization by the Gulf Cooperation Council be taken up by the Arab League as well.
King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa, head of the tiny island nation, has been one of the most ardent proponents for labeling the Lebanese Shi’ite militia as a terrorist group as part of efforts to fight back against growing Iranian hegemony in the region.
Hezbollah has been funded and supported by Iran for many years and is a key ally of Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, fighting against the anti-regime forces in the country.
The six-member GCC formally labelled Hezbollah as a terrorist organization on Wednesday, which could lead to sanctions against the group and businesses and other institutions associated with it.
Rabbi Marc Schneier, a prominent interfaith activist and president of the Foundation of Ethnic Understanding based in New York, met with Al Khalifa in the royal palace of the Bahraini capital Manama in order to discuss regional concerns in the Middle East.
Bahrain itself became the first Arab country to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in March 2013 following unrest in the country among its majority Shia population in the wake of the events of the Arab Spring in 2011.
Al Khalifa and the Bahraini government accused Hezbollah of supporting the unrest and even of training Shia groups in the country to rebel against the Sunni monarchy and to carry out terror attacks in the country.
During Scheier’s meeting with the al-Khalifa, the king noted that there were one or two countries among the GCC who had wanted to distinguish between Hezbollah’s militia and its political wing although this was ultimately rejected.
A compromise over the strength of the language was however reached to accommodate different opinions in the GCC, which is comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
According to Schneier, who has met with al Khalifa on two other occasions, the king told him that he was advocating for the struggle against Hezbollah to be expanded as widely as possible in the Arab world, stating that the Arab League and its 22 member states should take up this mantle and label the group as a terror organization.
Schneier himself noted that the shared enmity held by the Gulf Arab states and Israel against Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors should be seized as an opportunity to create an alliance with countries that have formerly been hostile to the Jewish state.
“Iran is not only an obstacle but an opportunity for peace between Israel and Arab nations,” Schneier told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday after his meeting on Wednesday with al-Khalifa.
“Both Israel and the Gulf states share a common enemy, so it’s the makings of a natural alliance, in terms of joining forces against the evil of terrorism, religious extremism and fanaticism.
“It’s a real opportunity and a silver lining in the dark cloud of terror. The Gulf states recognize Israel as an ally against Iran, and its ability to stabilize the region and support moderate Arab countries, so this could be a game changer in the geopolitical climate of the Middle East.”
Schneier added that al-Khalifa has also said during their meeting that in his opinion it is just a matter of time before some Arab countries begin opening diplomatic ties with Israel.
Al-Khalifa also stated that the balance of power in the Middle East between moderates and extremists depended on Israel and that Israel had the power to defend not only itself but the voices of moderation and the moderate Arab states the region.
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