Middle East’s Saudi-Iran Surprise Could Bring Stability
Chinese-sponsored deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia alters Middle East political landscape, deals blow to US and Israel
The Chinese-sponsored deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia is a major political earthquake that will shift many Middle Eastern political alignments, according to analysts.
On the international level, it is a blow to the United States, which has partially lost one of its most important regional allies – Saudi Arabia – to China. The US and Israel were counting on the Saudis and Emiratis to help them weaken the Iranians, but did not pay sufficient attention to Mohammed bin Salman and his father, the Saudi king.
The Israeli military option is dead now. The Israeli attack against Iran has been nullified because the Israelis will not be able to go through Jordan and Saudi Arabia or Iraq.
Military analyst Mamoun Abu Nuwar, a retired Jordanian Air Force major general, told The Media Line that the agreement is a good step.
“It will have a direct effect on the balance of forces in the region, and it will have ripple effects on many levels, including that of the Abraham Accords,” he explained.
Abu Nuwar says that because of the Iranian-Saudi rapprochement, the United Arab Emirates’ concern about attacks from Iran and the Houthis has been diminished, and the Gulf federation no longer needs Israel.
“The Israeli military option is dead now. The Israeli attack against Iran has been nullified because the Israelis will not be able to go through Jordan and Saudi Arabia or Iraq. The military option is dead,” he said.
Abu Nuwar says he thinks that the Saudi-Iran deal will lead to additional breakthroughs in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. And it will facilitate arrangements regarding south Syria that will be good for Jordan as well. However, he is concerned that Jordan may be affected negatively since it withdrew its ambassador from Tehran in June 2018 for Iran’s “interference in Arab affairs” following an Iranian attack on the Saudis. “They were caught off guard, and they were unaware of the changes going on,” he said.
Abu Nuwar said that a political vacuum was created, and vacuums are not good for foreign affairs.
Even though the US has only partially withdrawn from the Middle East, the Chinese were quick to fill that void. But the retired Jordanian general says that the Americans will not leave the region. “Having said all that, the Saudis will not give up on the US, and the Americans will not give up on the Gulf,” he said.
Now the Palestinian cause will receive a morale boost, Abu Nuwar says, but – in addition to Israel and the US – the Emirates came out a loser. “The Israeli protection is useless now, and this is why the UAE suddenly broke off its military deal with the Israelis,” he said, referring to reports that the UAE is suspending certain defense purchases from Jerusalem.
It is premature to expect that things will be resolved between them
However, Khaled Shnikat, director of the Jordanian Society for Political Science, told The Media Line that the situation between Saudi Arabia and Iran is much more complicated and will take some time to unravel.
“It is premature to expect that things will be resolved between them. Iran and Saudi Arabia have a very complicated case in Yemen because it will be hard to undo some of the things that Iran feels they have accomplished in Yemen, as well as in Syria and Iraq. The Iranians have built strong partnerships, and it is premature to expect that Iran will simply fold and give up their gains in the region,” he said.
Shnikat noted that the big worry in the Gulf is Iranian expansionist efforts. “Maybe this agreement will put a stop to expansionist ideologies and practices, but it is unlikely that they will give up their achievements,” he said.
They had no choice but to mend their relationships and revitalize diplomacy instead of clashes
Tagreed Odeh, a Jordanian political scientist, told The Media Line that the political and military needs of both the Saudis and the Iranians forced them to this agreement. “They had no choice but to mend their relationships and revitalize diplomacy instead of clashes,” she said.
Odeh says that the agreement will bring stability and remove the Saudis and the other Gulf states from being Iranian targets, lessening the chance of any attack against Iran from any US bases in the Gulf region.
The important part of the deal might be the Chinese guarantor
Hazem Dmour, the general manager at the Amman-based think tank STRATEGIECS, is not sure if this deal will hold up. He told The Media Line that the next two months will be crucial.
“Until now we have a security and intelligence deal, but the next two months will tell if the diplomatic and political effort will come around. It is true that Iranian proxies in Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq have welcomed the deal but that is part of being supportive of Iran. The important part of the deal might be the Chinese guarantor,” he said.
The big question that needs to be answered will be whether the Israelis will continue to pursue their anti-Iranian policy
Amer Sabileh, a strategic expert, believes the agreement’s major problem will be the Israelis. “The Saudis have an economic plan which requires stability, the big question that needs to be answered will be whether the Israelis will continue to pursue their anti-Iranian policy or not,” he said.
While the return of relations, which should be welcomed by all, will mean a much more stable and less volatile Middle East, the rapprochement between Sunni Saudis and Shia Iranians will directly influence the civil war in Yemen. The Zaidi Shia Houthis will now have to mend their relationship with their fellow Sunni Yemenis, hopefully ending the eight-year-long civil war.
The improvement of relations will also help smooth the election of a new Christian Maronite president in Lebanon and allow for some kind of consensus between Sunni Muslims and the Hizbullah-supporting Shia Muslims in Lebanon, experts say.
The deal might also ease the conflict in Syria. Saudis are on good terms with the Russians, and, with this agreement, it is possible to find a comprehensive deal regarding the presence of troops from Russia, Iran, the US, and Turkey on Syrian soil.