Netanyahu, Nasrallah Blindsided by Iranian-Saudi Alliance
(L-R) Saudi national security adviser Musaad bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Iran's national security adviser Ali Shamkhani meet to finalize the agreement to resume diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Beijing, China on March 10, 2023. (Luo Xiaoguang/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Netanyahu, Nasrallah Blindsided by Iranian-Saudi Alliance

Chinese brokered deal signals Saudi Arabia’s Gulf dominance

Many were surprised by the Saudi-Iranian agreement to return to normal relations and for each to reopen its embassy in the other’s capital. The most surprised by the move were two: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Netanyahu told a crowd of businessmen in Rome that he planned to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia and build a railway from the Gulf to Haifa’s shores on the Mediterranean Sea, shortening the distance between the Gulf’s energy resources and consumers in Europe.

Nasrallah was also surprised by the recent agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran to resume diplomatic relations. He declared in a speech just one day earlier that such an agreement would take a significant amount of time to achieve.

There are indications that Saudi Arabia did not inform Netanyahu or his officials about the recent diplomatic developments with Iran. The two countries in recent years have had unofficial bilateral relations, though these were interrupted in 2020.

It likewise appears that Iran did not inform its allies of the recent diplomatic developments with Saudi Arabia, which took place behind closed doors in Beijing. Iran considers the agreement to be a matter of supreme national interest, which will contribute to the stabilization of the Gulf region and potentially lead to breakthroughs in various arenas in the Middle East. One of the most significant potential outcomes is the possibility of resolving the ongoing conflict in Yemen, according to an outline currently being drawn up as part of the Saudi-Iranian negotiations.

Riyadh notably kept Washington informed about the ongoing negotiations with Tehran, and while American officials were aware of the general outline of the agreement, they were not involved in all the details. This suggests that Saudi Arabia remains committed to its relationship with the United States. Additionally, the US does not view China’s sponsorship of the reconciliation agreement as a threat to world peace, but rather as a signal of Saudi Arabia’s ability to navigate and manage diplomatic relationships in the Arab and Islamic worlds as a leading country in the region.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia seemingly has been sharing updates on its Iran negotiations with other countries in the region, including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, and Bahrain. These nations, along with several other Muslim countries, have reportedly welcomed the agreement’s finalization.

Saudi officials have said that one of their primary objectives in reaching the diplomatic agreement with Iran was to promote calm in the Gulf region and achieve peace, particularly in anticipation of the month of Ramadan and the upcoming hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. This period is marked by the visit of millions of Muslims from around the world to Saudi Arabia, particularly to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

In contrast to Israel’s response, Saudi Arabia appears to view the agreement with Iran as a natural outcome of neighboring nations with an uneasy relationship but a shared interest in peaceful coexistence. The Saudis do not appear to be overstating the significance of the agreement and have expressed a willingness to weather any potential Iranian breaches of the agreement. Indeed, Saudi Arabia has a long history of fluctuating relations with the Persian Iranians.

The Iranians appear to have had a greater interest in reaching this agreement than the Saudis did, as they sought a means of extricating themselves from the economic and social crises that have fueled popular uprisings within the Islamic Republic in recent months. This was compounded by the cessation of nuclear talks with the US and European nations, and the increasing military pressure against Iran from Israel and the Pentagon, including periods of tension and mutual provocation.

Iran notably maintains normal relations with several other Gulf nations, including the UAE, whose national security adviser, Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, has visited Tehran several times in the past two years. Iran’s counterparts have also visited Abu Dhabi, and have maintained relations with Muscat, Doha, and Kuwait City.

Saudi Arabia, however, is viewed as the most significant country in the Gulf region from Iran’s perspective. Hence, the pursuit of an agreement with the kingdom. Iran has relinquished many of its assets related to its attempts to control the Middle East through armed militias. In return, Iran gains peace, less Western pressure, and a large, strong, and prosperous neighbor that is not likely to go to war with the Islamic Republic during this sensitive period.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia apparently did not place much importance on Israel’s promises to protect and defend the kingdom in case of escalation, as Israel’s talk of normalization did not align with the Saudi royal family’s plan. Additionally, Israel’s failure to make progress toward resolving the Palestinian issue allegedly played a role in Saudi Arabia’s plans. The kingdom considers the Palestinian issue to be a fundamental factor in its approach toward the Jewish state.

Saudi Arabia’s recent diplomatic successes, including the reconciliation with Qatar and Turkey, demonstrate its leading role among Arab and Muslim countries in the Gulf and beyond. The recent agreement with Iran shows once again Riyadh’s ability to navigate complex geopolitical challenges and pursue peace and stability in the region. This diplomatic approach has cemented Saudi Arabia’s position as a strong and influential player in the Muslim world. The deposit of $5 billion in the Central Bank of Turkey highlights Saudi Arabia’s commitment to supporting its allies and maintaining economic stability in the region.

The Iran-Saudi Arabia agreement, brokered by China, is a resounding slap in the face to Netanyahu and his administration, which failed to “provide the goods” and were left with no say in the matter. It is also a strong blow to Hizbullah, which knew “nothing and a half” about the agreement. The agreement proves that Saudi Arabia is the strongest and leading Arab and Muslim country in the Gulf and among Islamic countries and it is a signal to the United States that there are alternative power structures in the no longer unipolar world.

The author of this blog or other opinion piece is a third-party contributor who is independent of The Media Line Ltd and its partners or supporters. All assertions, opinions, facts, and information presented in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and are not necessarily those of The Media Line and/or all parties related thereto, none of whom assumes any responsibility for its content.

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