1. The growing Sunni-Shi'i divide is worrying and has repercussions on us in Singapore. When the Americans invaded Iraq to remove Saddam, they thought that Shiite Iraqis would be Arab first. After all, when Saddam invaded Iran in the 80's, many of his soldiers were Shiite. But the picture is not so clear now. For many years, Iran had provided refuge to Shiites fleeing from Saddam's oppression including senior Shi'i religious leaders. No one doubts that Iran today has significant influence in Iraq. As one Arab minister told me, the Americans have given the Iranians a card they did not have before.
2. The recent war in Lebanon was in fact between Israel on the one side and Syria and Iran on the other. Without the full backing of Syria and Iran, Hezbullah could not have become such a formidable force. Many Sunni Arab leaders, fearful of the growing Shiite influence, had quietly hoped that the Israelis would deal a crippling blow to Hezbullah. It was only after the Arab street reacted fiercely to the scenes of destruction in southern Beirut and southern Lebanon that their governments spoke up against Israel. With the ceasefire in place (for now) and the Arab street quiet again, Sunni Arab concern about growing Iranian influence in the Middle East is rising. As a result, the pattern of alliances in the region is changing.
3. In his book 'the Shia Revival', Vali Nasr writes about the dramatic shift in the historical balance of power between Sunnis and Shi'is. It is a book worth reading. As with all such shifts in the past, there will be a contest. With Iran determined to pursue nuclear technology (claiming that it is only for peaceful purposes), this particular contest will have fateful consequences not only for the Middle East but for the whole world. So much of global energy comes from that region.