27 December 2014
A Saudi-led proxy war against Iran playing out in Syria and Iraq has expanded onto the football pitch with a last minute decision by the Palestinian national team tocancela friendly against Iran. The cancellation, officially on technical grounds, came barely two weeks before Iran meets two of its Gulf nemeses, the UAE and Bahrain, in politically loaded matches during the Asian Cup in Australia. It also highlights internal divisions among the Palestinians as Hamas, the Islamist group in control of Gaza, seeks to patch up its differences with Iran.
Iranian suspicion that the Palestinian cancellation four days before the friendly was scheduled to take place is rooted in close ties between the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank headed by President Mahmoud Abbas and conservative Gulf states as well as Abbas’s deteriorating relations with Hamas. Iranian officials and football analysts doubt the cancellation had anything to do with football.
The officials and analysts noted that the Palestinian squad had recently trained and played matches in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, whose relations with Iran have long been strained. The two Gulf states, alongside Bahrain, believe that Iran has sought to fuel discontent in their countries and is responsible for the popular uprising in Bahrain that was brutally suppressed in 2011, as well as unrest in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich, predominantly Shi’a Muslim Eastern Province.
…James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, a syndicated columnist, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog and a forthcoming book with the same title.
RSIS / Online
Last updated on 29/12/2014