In the book “The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future,” Vali Nasr, an Iranian-American researcher on the crises in the Middle East, came to the conclusion in 2006 that the religious struggle resulting from the rise of the Shiite identity in the region would reshape the Middle East. Developments in recent years have proved that this view seems accurate.
Today, Shiite forces are strongly present in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. They are united and firmly associated with the Iranian axis. This new situation did not happen by chance or overnight. Rather, it was preceded by many arrangements that Iran has been making for decades.
The sectarian rivalry in the region began with the Iranian Revolution in 1979, when Saudi Arabia and Iran raced to find and endorse revolutionary groups that fought different governments based on Islamic ideology and inspired by the Quranic terms of jihad in the Middle East. These groups include al-Qaeda for the Sunnis and Hezbollah and the Houthi movement for the Shiites.
While Saudi Arabia has invested in jihadist organizations in Afghanistan — such as the Afghan Arabs, or the Arab mujahedeen, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan — Iran has invested in the Shiite opposition forces in the Arab countries, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hezbollah al-Hejaz in Bahrain and the Badr Brigade in Iraq.
The Saudi investment has lost, as it has turned against Saudi Arabia. It has evolved into al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (IS) and other Salafist organizations that have placed Saudi Arabia at the top of their enemy list. The Iranian investment has, however, greatly succeeded and was gradually expanded toward non-Shiite majority areas such as Syria and Yemen. Today, 30% of Yemen’s population is Shiite, and the most influential group there is the Houthi movement, which is close to Iran. In Syria, Iran has succeeded in protecting the Bashar al-Assad regime, which is under the control of the Alawite minority close to the Shiites.