On Friday, March 10, 2023, the Western world was surprised to learn of the Iranian-Saudi agreement to reopen embassies in each other’s country. In 2016, the Saudis severed diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The resumption of diplomatic relations between Riyadh and Tehran may not be a win for Saudi Arabia in the long run. It is, however, a triumph for the Islamic Republic of Iran and Beijing. The Iranian-Saudi rapprochement, mediated by the Chinese Communist regime is a clear victory for the “axis of evil,” and a major loss for the US, and Israel.
Beijing has now become a major player in the Middle East, at a time when the Biden administration is pulling out of the region. More importantly, however, China has become the indispensable power in the Middle East replacing the United States (US). And with a Western world dependence on carbon energy until such time when green energy will be readily available, the Middle East is a vital arena for Western interests. With Russian oil and gas being sanctioned due to Moscow’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, the Middle East’s importance is magnified. China has slowly accumulated influence in the region, securing its own energy needs, and at the same time neutralizing the US and its Western allies. China has forged a close alliance with Iran’s Islamic Republic, drawing into its web Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states. This means winning in a zero-sum game, transforming the region from an essentially pro-American Gulf region to a neutral if not an anti-American position by Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states.
The Ayatollahs of Iran have shown that they are better chess players than the American and Israeli players. They understood that an anti-Iranian defensive military force was being built by the US and Israel, and with the help of the Chinese, they apparently managed to decouple Saudi Arabia from such an alliance. And since the Saudis are the tone-setters and leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are also unlikely to risk an anti-Iranian alliance without Saudi Arabia. For Iran moreover, the new agreement with Riyadh enables it to overcome the hitherto regional isolation.
The Saudis have been frustrated with the Biden administration and felt that they have been badly mistreated. President Biden vilified Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) as a murderer over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Earlier, during the Obama-Biden administration, the Saudis were ignored when Obama rushed to appease the Ayatollahs and concluded with them the Joint Comprehensives Plan of Action (JCPOA) or the Iran Nuclear deal. The Saudis felt slighted and insulted. Mostly, however, the Saudis sensed the weakness of the Biden administration, and the similarly weak Israeli prime ministers Naftali Bennett, and Yair Lapid. They have therefore decided for now to secure their flanks and agreed to restore relations with Iran. Saudi Arabia now follows the United Arab Emirates in concluding a peace agreement with Iran.
There is no “love lost” between Tehran and Riyadh. The historic rivalry between the Persian Shiite-Muslims and the Sunni-Muslim Arabs will continue. The two nations are at odds over Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen, Arab countries that are dominated by Iran and its proxy militias, i.e. Hezbollah, Houthis, etc. The Saudi’s though, realizing that the Biden administration is unlikely to intervene on their behalf in a conflict with Iran, and feeling slighted by Biden, have abandoned their hitherto essentially pro-American position for a neutralist stance. Besides, China and Russia are more than willing to provide the Saudis with arms, without pestering them on human rights violations.
Recriminations among Israeli politicians have begun, with each blaming the other for “losing” Saudi Arabia. The Times of Israel reported (March 12, 2023) that Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid blamed Netanyahu for the Saudi-Iran rapprochement, arguing that it was the result of diplomatic neglect, general weakness, and internal conflict in the country since the current government was established on December 29, 2022. Lapid, the current leader of Israel’s opposition in the Knesset stated that “This is what happens when you deal with legal madness all day instead of doing the job with Iran and strengthening relations with the US.” In Rome this week, an anonymous senior official with Netanyahu responded by blaming the previous governments of Bennett and Lapid who were in office eighteen months before Netanyahu returned to the office of Prime Minister. The Senior official stated that “It (Iran-Saudi rapprochement) happened because of the impression that Israel and the US were weak.”
Yoel Guzansky, a Persian Gulf expert at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, pointed out “It’s a blow to Israel’s notion and efforts in recent years to try to form an anti-Iran bloc in the region.” Guzansky added, “If you see the Middle East as a zero-sum game, which Israel and Iran do, a diplomatic win for Iran is very bad news for Israel.”
The Iran-Saudi rapprochement is, without a doubt, a great loss of American prestige in the global arena and the Middle East in particular. It appears as if China is eclipsing the US as the indispensable power in the Middle East and Asia in general. Aaron David Miller, former Middle East policy adviser at the State Department said, “I think it demonstrates that US’s influence and credibility in that region (Middle East) has diminished and that there is a new sort of international regional alignment taking place, which has empowered and given both Russia and China newfound influence and status.” Dennis Ross, the former US Middle East envoy asserted that “the Saudis see the deal as a means to try and reduce Iran’s ability to threaten it, or at least limit some of the Iranian trouble-making incentives.”
Let’s not forget that Joe Biden recently threatened the Saudis with “consequences” following his visit to Riyadh, where he sought Saudi increase in oil production. The Saudis ignored him. Gordon Chang, a Gatestone senior Fellow, interviewed on Fox News, claimed that China seeks to replace the US Dollar as the international reserve currency by paying in billions of Chinese currency (Yuan) for Saudi and Iranian oil. So, while Biden is involved with American bank failure, China is taking advantage by capturing a dominant economic and political position on the global scene.
Ironically perhaps, but during the Trump administration, the US won tremendous prestige in the Middle East by delivering the Abraham Accords. Under the Biden administration, we have witnessed an American retreat and failure in the region. The Iran-Saudi rapprochement under Chinese guidance is an unmistakable example of it.