The region of the Middle East has been falling into increased instability and deep crises that are increasingly

The Observation and Analysis Unit
26 Jul 2015

A year after the establishment of the so-called Caliphate by ISIL, and installing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi a Caliph, the organization launched a series of suicide attacks in three continents around


A year after the establishment of the so-called Caliphate by ISIL, and installing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi a Caliph, the organization launched a series of suicide attacks in three continents around the world, in Kuwait, Tunisia, and France. These attacks were praised by Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the spokesperson of ISIL, in a speech titled “O Our people, answer the call of Allah”.

The geographic element of the attacks involves several messages ISIL wanted to deliver for the world. They were meant to indicate that the whole world is under its eminent threat, and that its organizational abilities are so vast and powerful and enable it to target several places around the world at a time. They also sent a message for al-Qaeda that ISIL is in control of the global network of Jihad.

Saudi Arabia has also been targeted by ISIL in the recent bombings in two mosques predominantly congregated by Shi’a Muslims in 22 and 29 May, 2015 in Qatif and Dammam. 26 people were killed in the attacks, which called the Saudi authorities to step up the security levels in the country. At the same time, SA accuses Iran of standing behind the attacks as indicated by the Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir.

In order to clarify the situation in regards to the attacks, it is important to determine the motives behind them, and identify the parties that benefit from such attacks through penetrating the Arab region in general and the Gulf region in specific. Such attacks happened in the midst of a devastating sectarian war which is almost impossible to preclude, despite the fact that all parties, Sunnis and Shi’as, including the ruling families in the Gulf, are aware of the catastrophic consequences of such war. But is this sufficient? Is it now time for the Gulf States in specific, which enjoy a kind of relative stability, to perform vital revisions and reforms?


First: Motives and Objectives of the Suicide Bombings

There are different interpretations in regards to the recent suicide bombings that targeted the Shi’a mosques in the Gulf. There are naturally some direct objectives that ISIL mentioned, but there are other indirect advantages that are exploited by global networks of intelligence that know exactly how to make use of the periods following such attacks.

  1. The Direct Goals

Through analyzing the speech of Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, in 23 June 2015, several message could be identifies. These messages were directed to both the enemies and the followers, and could be summarized in three basic points:

  • First: he sent a message to the Sunnis of Iraq that the crimes of the Shi’a militias, represented mainly by the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) could only be fenced off by joining ISIL as a representative of the Sunni Muslims. Otherwise, they will have to face death and degradation. By this, the Sunnis of Iraq have to choose between terrorism or parallel terrorism, especially that there are currently no moderate Sunni groups or parties that could defend the Sunni community in Iraq, since Iran is controlling the situation in the country.


  • Second: he tried to ignite the sectarian war in the region. Al-Adnani did not refer to Iran and the Assad regime in their activities in the region as political regime and instead he emphasized the importance of fighting the Shi’a, the crusaders and the traitors among the Arab leaders as he said.


  • Third: to improve the morals of ISIL members through highlighting the accomplishments of the group and its ability to resist and challenge, and number of new groups that swore allegiance to ISIL, most importantly the establishment of “Khorasan” state, which is considered a great blow to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan known as Taliban.

Significantly, al-Adnani called for Jihad during Ramadan, saying that all Muslims should use this opportunity to step up the Jihad efforts to attack what he labels “Shia, crusades, and traitors”. Are these bombings in SA and Kuwait, and these in the factory in Southeast France and ليو in Tunisia a response to this call committed by the so-called “lone wolves” who were encouraged to use car bombs, explosive devices, or even knives? The answer is from one perspective is yes.


  1. The indirect objectives

It seems that some parties are determined to instigate a sectarian war in the Gulf region, and they try to convince the public that such war already exists there, especially after Iran has succeeded in convincing the Shi’a Arabs to engage in such conflicts with their Sunni brothers. This happened with groups like Hezbullah in Syria, Houthis in Yemen, the PMF in Iraq, and these groups are now in a direct conflict with the Arab peoples.

The ultimate result of this is isolating the Shi’a Arabs and making them direct targets for terrorist attacks, which will help convincing them to seek protection from Iran. Iran will in turn use them as a tool to increase its presence and control in the Arab world and control the international water passages as strategic positions that will help Iran bolster its status in the world. Iran will be willing to risk the lives of those very Shi’a Arabs and the stability of their countries to achieve such goals.

The Gulf states should be very careful regarding this Iranian scheme and should endeavor to thwart these efforts in order to protect their Shia citizens in the Gulf from falling victims the to the Iranian manipulation.


Second: The Iranian role

Iran realized that spreading the Shia creed in the Arab world through hymns and spirituality will not achieve its nationalistic goals, especially that the Shia creed is generally impossible to be accepted among the Arab people for different historical and religious reasons. The conservative trends in Iran adopted a project of sectarianism, through supporting militias and marginalizing the official governments and the moderate Shia figures. This happened in Iran, Lebanon, and Yemen. This policy might coincide as well with the objectives of other international powers that seek to create a state of confusion in the region in order to reshape it demographically.

There are also other motives for Iran to disturb the stability of the Shia citizens, in the Gulf region in specific, like reducing the amounting pressures on the Syrian regime and Hezbullah in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen. Additionally, it seeks to scatter the efforts of SA and other Gulf states to curb Iran’s influence in the region. Other motives might include inciting the Iranian public against the conservative regime, which might not seems difficult to achieve, in the light of the increasing unemployment rates among the youth which crossed 20%. The Iranian public is currently eager for change.

Conclusion: When the Arab revolts began in 2011, Iran had a positive outlook towards them, as stated by Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, saying that the objectives of the Iranian revolution are about to be realized, and he commended the “Islamic awakening” in the Arab region. The predictions of Khamenei were mistaken, since the first elections in the countries of the Arab Spring gave way to Islamic trends to be in government, as happened in Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Tunisia.

There were on the other hand counter-revolutions, supported by some Gulf States, which try to save the old regimes in those countries witnessing revolutions, which renewed the hopes of the Iranians. Indeed, Iran is turning the conflict in the region for its advantage, and has eliminated governments elected by the peoples of these countries. Iran, as stated, has goals beyond those four Arab states, and is keen on fomenting conflict in the Gulf States in order to strengthen its control in the whole Arab region when the opportunity arises.


Third: The Reactions of the Saudi and Kuwaiti communities

We should highlight the popular and official reactions of the concerned parties after the bombing of the Shia mosques in SA and Kuwait. Awareness in this regard is the second basic element, after the efforts of the governments, to spread the culture of coexistence and standing against the threats facing the unity of the society. The public condemnations against these attacks in both SA and Kuwait reassured the people in general. Members of the societies there and some organizations worked with the official institutions and adopted projects that seek to strengthen the national bonds among the people and condemn sectarianism, in order to avoid similar conflicts erupting in neighboring countries.

Tellingly enough, some Shia people, residing outside the Gulf States, called for forming “armed” popular committees to protect their mosques, claiming that the official security forces failed to do that. This is naturally rejected by the authorities in the Gulf. Who made these calls? Would this lead to installing armed Shia groups in the areas inhabited by the Shia in the Gulf, as happened in Iraq in 2003 after the US invasion? Do these attacks represent the tip of the iceberg?


Fourth: Calculated Considerations

The attacks that targeted the Shia mosques in SA and Kuwait were taken seriously by the leadership in both countries, and were considered a beginning of a possible series of attacks and measures, for several reasons. The first is the impact of the conflicts in the region on the Gulf area; Iraq in East, and Yemen in the South. The second is the disenchantment of the Gulf States with Washington, who chose to build closer relations with Iran, the traditional enemy of the Gulf States, which means that Iranian influence in the region might replace the Gulf’s. The third aspect, probably the most serious, is Iran’s penetration of the GCC economically and politically, and undermining its security. The Saudi leadership is completely aware of this, and the statement made by its foreign minister reflects an understanding of the eminent Iranian threat in the Gulf and its attempts to foment a crisis in the Gulf region. The economy of the UAE seems to be influenced by Iranian businessmen, and the liberal trends in the Gulf, notwithstanding some details, are closer to the Iranian project in the region, and some liberal figures are trying to improve the image of Iran in the Arab world and beyond.

The different political perspectives among the GCC countries could not be taken as a natural state of disagreement, since it is a serious threat that would disturb the very structure of the GCC unless the Gulf States manage to solve these disagreements and carefully determine their priorities. The Gulf states are largely tend to agree with the Saudi vision, as the greatest powers in the council, and this is an opportunity to witness geopolitical changes in the Gulf area.

There is currently increased understanding between SA and Qatar regarding certain important issues, such as the stance on the MB movement and the Arab spring revolts, which could lead to adopting similar foreign policies in relation to Turkey and Iran. Kuwait and Bahrain also side with the previous, current, and even the future Saudi vision, for several reasons, while Oman has mutual interests with Iran, and this influences its position on the Gulf-Iran conflict, although it is a member in the GCC.

The relationship between SA and the UAE is subject to the position taken by SA regarding the Arab spring and the MB movement, in light of the Kingdom’s efforts to build on a solid public support, in parallel with Iran’s relations with public Shia movement, in the Arab countries or elsewhere. Accordingly, the relations between SA and UAE might witness some change and might eventually reach a point of rift between them.

Scenarios and Recommendations

It is expected for other attacks to take place in other Gulf countries like Bahrain and the UAE and even Oman. This violent wave is meant to affect all the Gulf States, and it might target the Shia or other religious minorities in order to exploit these terrorist attacks for the advantage of some schemes in the region. The Arab Shia will be used as preys, to ultimately save the national security of Iran. In this scheme, anyone opposes the Iranian project will be accused of terrorism or supporting terrorism.

There are several concerns regarding the “New Frenemies”; Iran and ISIL. The fact that Iran is immune from such attacks despite its stated animosity against ISIL and its geographical affinity to its strongholds. What are the interests of ISIL in launching such destructive attacks and fomenting a state of confusion in the Gulf area by targeting SA in this specific period, although ISIL is aware that the Gulf priority is confronting Iran? Is ISIL trying to impede the efforts of SA which is leading an Arab alliance to fight the Houthis in Yemen? Does ISIL realize that such attacks serve the Syrian regime and alleviate the pressures against it?

These suspicious attacks require the governments of the Gulf to adopt comprehensive political reforms and save their national security through confronting Iran’s influence on the Shia citizens in the Gulf through adopting integration programs and stressing the values of coexistence, in addition to strengthening the national identity and loyalty through reinforcing complete national equality among the citizens. The religious and cultural identity of the peoples of the Gulf should be maintained without adopting extreme positions, with or against the religion as some liberal figures in the Gulf tend to, which created a space for cultural and religious conflicts in the region.


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