The followers of the ‘path of Al-Imam’ movement are not believed to be at the level of organization and intelligence as Hezbollah, but it is necessary to study both, and to what extent their roles overlap among the Arab Shiite minorities of Gulf countries, especially among Saudi Shiites.
In 1979, one of Al-Husseini’s preachers in Al-Qatif warned his listeners against responding to Khomeini’s call to the Islamic Revolution. He said that Khomeini had interests contradictory to the interests of countries with which the Arab Shiites identify themselves. This is according to an article in Al-Arabiya English by Kamel Al-Khatti, the Saudi writer and researcher, who writes, “The Iranian discourse addressed members of the Shiite sect, just as an Iranian political ploy to threaten the security and stability of its neighbors by inciting their Shiite citizens to rise up against the ruling dispensation in their countries, on the pretext that this protest sought equality and justice. This preacher was a distinguished luminary of Al-Qatif and was among the prominent Arab intellectuals. However, he was ostracized for expressing his adverse opinion about Khomeini. Rumor-mogering was used as a weapon for the moral assassination of this preacher. Thus, rumours were circulated about his alleged statement that Ben-Gurion’s shoes were purer than Khomeini’s beard.”
Still, in the revolution, Iran used Arab Shiite minorities as one of its main weapons, according to Al-Khatti, who writes, “…for this it relied on its elite cadres to be at the vanguard for directing public opinion to defend its positions in the Arab Shiite communities.”
As an example, during the Iran-Iraq war, security authorities in the Eastern region arrested a group of Saudi Shiite Aramco employees from Al-Ahsa. The group, led by Aramco’s Director of Communications, were charged with leaking schemes and coordinates of the company’s network stations. Following investigations, they confessed to their crime, saying that their motivation was to assist Iran in its war against Iraq and the Gulf countries allied with Iraq. One of the 16 arrested belonged to Hezbollah, but he was not the leader of the group. All of the members of the group risked their lives and the security of their country in support of Iran. Following the investigation, the Emirate of the Eastern Province summoned prominent Shiites and showed them video and audio confessions made by members of the group. All members were eventually released following a special royal amnesty.
As well, militants of Hezbollah’s regional branch were assigned actions to benefit Iran, which were carried out by sections of the Khomeini movement, whether by the ‘The followers of the path of Al-Imam’ or ‘Hezbollah’. Al-Khatti claims that these actions, “included hindering local religious men from choosing their jurisprudential references by influencing them into choosing doctrinal references in support of the ‘Vilayat Al-Faqih’ doctrine in order to tighten control of Arab Shiite communities, directing the sentiments and behavior of the Shiite Arab communities in accordance with Iranian interests, conducting moral assassination of Shiites Sheikhs and dignitaries who did not subscribe to the doctrine of the Vilayat-e-Faqih doctrine. The actions also included conducting violent attacks — such as assassinations and bombings like the one at Sadaf company in Jubail Industrial City east of Saudi Arabia, the mayhem caused in 1989 during the pilgrimage season in Mecca, the bombing of al-Ju’aima laboratory, the failed attempt to blow up the escalator tower at the RasTanura oil-gas plant and the bombing of Al-Khobar Towers in 1996.”
He adds, “These crimes were carried out by citizens of Gulf countries, recruited by Iran for more than one reason. Their most important reason was to cause a trust deficit between the Shiite minorities in Gulf countries and their governments, as well as with the majority Sunni Arab population. The crisis of trust has already taken place and along with other factors has contributed toward isolating the Shiite minorities from their Sunni Arab community.”
In this way, Arab Shiite minorities grew closer to Iran due of the rising sense of alienation of these minorities in their national community. Iran’s discrimination has harmed the cause of Arab Shiite minorities.
Al-Khatti has two recommendations:
– One is to study the social issues faced by members of the Arab Shiite minorities in Gulf countries, who sympathize with Iranian policies, especially those in Saudi Arabia. Specialized research may reveal the best options for stopping Iran’s influence on Shiite minorities in Gulf Arab states.
– The second recommendation relates to making the local socio-political dynamics immune to regional influences. Still, Al-Khatti admits he doesn’t know how this might be implemented.