Restoration of Saudi-Iran Ties Could Reduce Tension Throughout Gulf  
(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. (Chinese Foreign Ministry/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Restoration of Saudi-Iran Ties Could Reduce Tension Throughout Gulf  

But analysts are divided on whether the China-brokered deal will really lead to resolution of the region’s most serious problems

In a move that has surprised virtually everyone, a tripartite statement issued by China, Saudi Arabia and Iran announced the restoration of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Riyadh, which were severed following the attack on Saudi embassy in Tehran in 2016. The agreement signed in Beijing on Friday will see the return of ambassadors to the two countries within two months.

Political observers and analysts differ in their opinions of the motives behind Riyadh’s surprising move, as Saudi Arabia repeatedly has refused to comment on the very existence of talks with Iran, which began in 2021 and have been held in both Baghdad and Muscat – in fact, the statement thanked Iraq and the Sultanate of Oman for their efforts behind the talks that took place between Riyadh and Tehran in their countries.

All Gulf countries and most Arab countries welcomed the announcement and expressed hope that it would contribute to the return of stability in the Middle East.

Bahrain is now considered to be the only country in the Gulf that does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, after it severed its ties with Tehran in 2016 in solidarity with Saudi Arabia, while calling for a “stop (to) Iran’s interference in Bahrain’s internal affairs.” At the same time, the United Arab Emirates was content to reduce the level of diplomatic ties, while Oman, Kuwait and Qatar continued their relations with Iran.

“Washington is aware of reports of the resumption of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said, commenting on the agreement. “In general, Washington welcomes any efforts that help end the war in Yemen and reduce tension in the Middle East.”

It seems that Saudi Arabia still does not fully trust Tehran, and therefore set a time limit of two months, so that during these two months Iran will show good intentions and resolve the files related to the security of the region

Iran and Saudi Arabia have supported opposing sides in the eight-year-long war in Yemen between the Iran-backed Houthi militia based in Sanaa and the Internationally Recognized Government of Yemen in exile in Aden, supported by a Saudi-led coalition. Riyadh also has reduced its level of support for Lebanon because of the Iranian-backed Hizbullah.

Bahrain did not announce any similar step toward Tehran following the Iran-Saudi reconciliation on Saturday, but a meeting took place on Saturday evening between Bahrain’s Parliament Speaker Ahmed Al-Musallam and Iranian Parliament member Mojtaba Rezakhah, head of the Iranian Shura Council delegation, on the sidelines of the 146th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which is currently being held in Bahrain.

“During the meeting, the Iranian parliamentary delegation expressed its appreciation to the Kingdom of Bahrain for the good organization and hosting of the work of the 146th Assembly, and ways of cooperation and joint coordination in international parliamentary forums were discussed,” the Bahrain News Agency reported. The Media Line was unable to uncover more details about the meeting.

“The agreement came after two years of continuous consultations with Tehran, and understandings based on good neighborliness, respect for the sovereignty of states and addressing regional security challenges, and Saudi Arabia’s conviction that dialogue is the most successful way to deal with all matters,” Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan told Saudi Arabian media.

The agreement to restore ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran could make the countries of the region feel more secure, experts say.

“From my point of view, the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran will enhance the security of the region,” Osama Gharibi, a Saudi journalist and researcher on Iranian affairs, told The Media Line,

“It seems that Saudi Arabia still does not fully trust Tehran, and therefore set a time limit of two months, so that during these two months Iran will show good intentions and resolve the files related to the security of the region,” he added.

Gharibi expects that in the wake of the agreement the Houthi rebels will join in efforts to reach peace in Yemen, after nearly eight years of war there.

Majed Al-Khalidi, a journalist and economic analyst, says that the agreement could make the Arabian Gulf a safer place for tankers carrying oil and gas to countries around the world.

“The return of Saudi-Iranian relations will reassure oil-exporting and consuming countries in a way about the continuity of energy resources, and will distance international energy corridors, specifically in the Arabian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, from being targeted, as happened to a number of tankers in the past years,” he told The Media Line.

In the past, with numerous terrorist attacks, robberies or interception of tankers and confiscation of its cargo, the cost of insurance increased, which increased the prices of supply chains, because tanker owners have felt that there is a state of security instability, after more than one ship was targeted in the Arabian Gulf.

“Securing supply lines, and stopping armed militias from targeting oil refineries on the Arab coast of the Gulf, is not just security arrangements that concern Saudi Arabia and its neighbors only, but rather is a matter of concern to global markets,” Khalidi concluded.

Suhail Majali, a Jordanian analyst based in Bahrain, told The Media Line that: “The return of Saudi-Iranian relations comes in the context of resolving international entanglements and reducing the chances of regional tensions heating up in the Middle East.”

“Serious American-European-Israeli military threats against Iran have emerged in the past four months, and Saudi Arabia believed that it was not in the interest of the countries of the region,” Majali continued. He added that the Saudis believe that Iran’s current near-weapons-grade level of nuclear enrichment “would launch a nuclear arms race among all and would bring destruction and wars, even without the use of nuclear weapons.”

“Saudi Arabia is seeking more stability to advance its project toward the ‘new Europe’, and the presence of a major country in the region, such as Iran, facing the dangers of collapse and popular chaos and posing a threat to international and regional peace, will make the task difficult, just as Iran wants to move to a new stage of growth and stability,” Majali continued.

Saad Rashid, a Bahraini journalist and political analyst, told The Media Line that the Saudi-Iranian agreement “came as a shock to the White House, as it was sponsored by China.”

“The agreement provides a guarantee to Iran to protect the western front from any attack, while it provides Saudi Arabia with securing the southern front,” he said, adding that “Russia is also part of the agreement, as the agreement supports Moscow in the Ukrainian crisis.”

Dr. Abdul Karim Al-Wazzan, a former professor of media at the University of Baghdad, told The Media Line that “Tehran is taking advantage of the agreement as a truce to improve its internal situation, as it has been suffering from an uprising that has been going on for several months.” He is referring to ongoing anti-government protests sparked by the September death of Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police for wearing her hijab incorrectly.

“Iran will sacrifice all its arms now to this agreement, including the popular crowd in Iraq, Hizbullah in Lebanon, and the Houthi militia in Yemen, and it will abandon all those it supports to repel the Gulf states and the region,” Wazzan said.

“This is a maneuver and a temporary truce, which will work later on equipping and establishing other militias with which to fight the countries of the region. Iran’s dream of controlling the entire region will not end,” he said.

Wazzan added: “We will see a breakthrough in the Yemen crisis, and a dialogue between the Yemeni forces. We will also see the beginning of a solution to the Syrian file, and the end of Hizbullah’s power in Lebanon. But all of this will return as soon as Iran regains its strength, and Iranian-backed militias and groups will return after several years.”

Muwafaq al-Khattab, an Iraqi political analyst, told The Media Line that the agreement will put an end to the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran that actually began in 1979, though it has been most pronounced in the last decade “as a result of Iran’s hostile and interventionist behavior and policies in the affairs of other countries in the region.”

“The agreement may tend to zero out the problems in the region, as the conflict gradually took on a sectarian dimension, attracting local forces that found interests and momentum in the conflict between the two countries. Iran found in it peripheral arms through which it achieves its interests and aims. Therefore, dialogue and rapprochement between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iran is necessary to solve the main problems in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and other areas of contact,” he said.

“Perhaps we will witness more agreements in the region that play the same role as the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, that peace that ended the stage of religious, sectarian and sectarian conflict in Europe and paved the way for religious freedom and religious tolerance,” according to Wazzan.

The agreement is still in its first stage, and we will see in the coming months what good it can offer the region. We have to wait and see. Of course, Tehran cannot be completely trusted.

Mujahid al-Salali, a Yemeni journalist, said that the Houthis “will enter into a truce, nearly nine years after the start of the war with Saudi Arabia.”

He added that “Saudi Arabia is now heading toward economic development, and with danger from the south and east, and danger from Iraq and Lebanon, this development will not proceed as planned.”

“We hope that this agreement will end the war in Yemen,” Salali said. “Certainly, the Houthi decision comes from Tehran.”

Muhammad Ajlan, a Saudi political analyst, told The Media Line that the countries of the region “cannot remain in conflict forever. This step was very necessary.”

“The agreement is still in its first stage, and we will see in the coming months what good it can offer the region,” he added. “We have to wait and see. Of course, Tehran cannot be completely trusted.”

The Bahraini Shiite opposition Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, which was dissolved by the Bahraini authorities in 2016 on charges of supporting terrorism and communicating with Iran, issued a statement on its official Twitter account, saying that the agreement is “generally comfortable, and we hope that it will contribute to easing the crisis with the opposition in Bahrain.”

Secretary-General of the Lebanese Hizbullah Hassan Nasrallah called the agreement good for the people of the region. “This transformation is good, and we are happy because we have confidence that this will not be at the expense of the peoples of the region, but rather in the interest of the peoples of the region and will help in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and the region, and our absolute confidence that this will not be at our expense,” Nasrallah said, adding: “Not at the expense of the Yemeni people, not at the expense of Syria, not at the expense of the resistance.”

Gulf and Arab tweeters and bloggers were divided in their reaction to the news about the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Tehran, with many believing that the agreement is a life-line for the current Iranian regime, which is suffering from large internal demonstrations, and the specter of an Israeli-Arab war against it.

Supporters of the agreement call it an opportunity to move away from war and its economic repercussions on the countries of the region.

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