The recent diplomatic thaw between Saudi Arabia and Iran, brokered by China, marks a momentous shift in the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East.
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to isolate Iran, the Chinese-brokered agreement between the two powers suggests that the United States is ceding ground in the region at a time when the Netanyahu government needs it most.
This development raises questions about the future of Israeli-Saudi relations and the possibility of a military strike against Iranian nuclear sites as cited by Israeli observers.
Moreover, China’s increasing presence in the Middle East, along with its close ties to both Riyadh and Tehran, underscores the country’s emergence as a new political player in the region.
As China deepens its strategic cooperation with Iran and the Gulf countries, it is becoming evident that the balance of power in the Middle East is shifting, with significant implications for regional stability and global security.
In US, conservative US lawmakers and the right-wing media reacted strongly to the news that China had brokered a restoration of diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia, blaming President Joe Biden for what they say is more evidence of the administration’s failed foreign policy.
In the Israeli entity, officials are apportioning culpability to the Netanyahu administration for this ‘setback’.
After several days of intense discussions in Beijing, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed on Friday to reopen their embassies and diplomatic missions within a maximum of two months, signaling a significant breakthrough in their diplomatic relationship.
China played a key role in brokering the deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which was announced after four days of undisclosed talks between top security officials from the two countries in Beijing.
China in Global Role?
How China is positioning itself as a new political player in the Middle East is an interesting topic for analysis.
In March 2021, China’s then-Foreign Minister Wang Yi signed a 25-year strategic cooperation agreement with Iran, further cementing China’s growing influence in the region.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s December 2022 visit to Riyadh was another sign of China’s expanding role in the Middle East. During his visit, Xi deepened cooperation between the New Silk Roads and Saudi Arabia’s modernization program, known as “Vision 2030”, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Xi also organized the first summit between China and the Gulf countries, further strengthening China’s ties to the region.
More recently, China has brokered a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which has led to speculation about the role China could play in resolving the long-standing tensions between the two countries. Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi’s reception in Beijing in February, coupled with China’s strong relations with both countries, likely contributed to the successful outcome of the deal.
China’s growing role in the Middle East has not gone unnoticed, as both Iran and Saudi Arabia have expressed interest in joining the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which could further strengthen China’s influence in the region. As the United States continues to struggle with its diplomatic relations with both countries, China’s growing influence in the Middle East could have significant implications for global politics and the balance of power in the region, which was previously dominated by established global powers such as the US and Russia.
China’s growing economic presence is now being matched by its diplomatic influence, the Washington Post said in an article published Monday.
Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, China’s diplomatic approach has been characterized by tough rhetoric towards the West, assertive actions in the South China Sea, and a reluctance to criticize Russia over its actions in Ukraine. However, the recent deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia showcases a different aspect of China’s diplomacy, the WP said.
President Xi played a direct role in the talks by hosting Iran’s president in Beijing last month, and he also visited Riyadh in December to meet with key Gulf Arab nations that are critical to China’s energy supplies. The agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia demonstrates China’s growing diplomatic clout and its ability to play a leading role in resolving complex geopolitical issues.
“The agreement was seen as a major diplomatic triumph for China, coming as Gulf Arab states perceive the United States as winding down its involvement in the Middle East,” the daily said.
Le Monde daily also spoke of China’s emerging influence, saying relationship between China and the Middle East is changing, “with Beijing increasingly becoming a significant political player in the region.” It said the deal also affirms the role it wishes to play as a leading world power in the future. “Unlike the United States, China has maintained good relations with both Riyadh and Tehran.”
The Wall Street Journal also highlighted China’s role by saying that the country is set to play a more significant diplomatic role in the Middle East as its involvement in the region’s affairs deepens. “The country’s recent efforts in resolving the long-standing conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran signals its growing influence in the region and highlights the potential for China to act as a mediator in future disputes,” it indicated.
The agreement has established host China as a major economic and political force in the world today, no longer emerging but arrived.
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— The Citizen (@TheCitizen_in) March 13, 2023
Deal Strikes Fear into ‘Israel’
All the way to Israeli efforts in analyzing the “surprising event”, the Jerusalem Post has said that the recent rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia may be partially due to “Israel’s increasingly right-wing turn and political chaos resulting from judicial reforms.”
The move was unexpected for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has emphasized Israel’s strength as a means to build regional relations, the post said. “The Biden administration’s disengagement from the Middle East is also a factor, with China emerging as a major player in the region,” it added.
The daily voiced insecurity in its report and ended up saying: The deal between Saudi and Iran is a significant development in the Middle East. ‘Israel’ needs to speak with its allies in Washington and urge the Biden administration to become more active. Sitting on the sidelines is not smart policy; other players will fill the void.
Reuters also mentioned in a report that the recent détente between Saudi Arabia and Iran poses a setback for Netanyahu’s efforts to isolate Iran, “but it remains to be seen if it hinders his outreach to Riyadh or plans for military action against Iran’s nuclear sites.” Some experts, Reuters cited, suggest that the bigger concern for ‘Israel’ is that the deal brokered by China indicates the US is losing ground in the region just when ‘Israel’ needs its support the most.
The Israeli government sees the recent rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran as a preliminary process that should not affect Israeli efforts to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia. However, Israel’s plans still depend on the United States, which has been a key mediator in Israeli-Arab peace agreements, Reuters said.
It’s worth noting that the Israeli government is already facing domestic challenges, with mass protests against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul push and a potential impact on combat readiness and morale.
Former military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin has called on Netanyahu to focus on international geopolitical trends and work with Biden on forging Israeli-Saudi ties and tackling Iran’s nuclear program instead of pushing through controversial judicial reforms.
Ehud Barak, a former defense minister of the Zionist entity and a critic of Netanyahu, has expressed concern over Iran’s nuclear program and criticized the weakness of coordination between the US and ‘Israel’ in the offense sphere.
In an op-ed published in Yedioth Ahronoth, Barak warned that Iran is becoming a ‘de facto nuclear threshold state’ and called for a change in the current coordination strategy with the US to better tackle the issue.
Meanwhile, ‘Israel’ has continued its campaign of veiled threats to launch a solo attack on Iran if nuclear diplomacy fails. However, all scenarios still depend on Washington, as a sponsor and sweetener of Israeli-Arab peace accords and a guardian ally. If the US opposes military action, Israel will be reluctant to act, an anonymous Israeli offical told Reuters.
The New York Times had reported over the weekend that Riyadh is seeking help with developing a civilian nuclear program and fewer restrictions on US arms purchases in return for normalizing relations with ‘Israel’.
Yadlin cautioned against Netanyahu’s eagerness to tout a Saudi peace plan as an achievement and urged him to resist such demands, which could harm the Israeli national security.
The Saudi government’s media office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the New York Times report. However, the agency mentioned that Saudi Arabia has linked any move towards normalizing ties with ‘Israel’ to the resolution of Palestinian statehood goals.
Shifting back to Iranian diplomacy, Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and deputy foreign minister for political affairs, emphasized the importance of “mutual political trust” for the success of Iran’s neighborliness policy during a meeting with Oman’s Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Albusaidi in Muscat.
Kani cited the recent improvement in Iran-Saudi Arabia relations as an example of the successful implementation of Iran’s neighborliness policy. He praised Oman’s constructive role in facilitating the reconciliation between the two countries.
Kani further elaborated on Iran’s neighborliness policy, stating that it aims to establish stability and calm in the region while promoting economic cooperation and development for all regional nations. He highlighted the strategic significance of this policy for securing Iran’s national interests and advancing its foreign policy goals.
The top Omani diplomat, for his part, welcomed the Iran-Saudi deal, saying it will serve as a basis for strengthening the spirit of cooperation and greater interaction among regional states.
Higher Level Talks Looming
In the same vein, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanaani announced on Monday that preparations are underway for a a higher level meeting than the previous talks that led to the Beijing agreement, with the foreign ministries of both nations coordinating the arrangements.
Emphasizing the positive impact of the détente between Tehran and Riyadh on regional developments, Kanaani stated that the agreement demonstrates the efficacy of diplomatic solutions in resolving misunderstandings. He also highlighted the potential for improving relations between Iran and Bahrain as a result of the reconciliation.
No to Prisoner Swap Games
In related developments, Iran has emphasized late Sunday that the prisoner exchange agreement with the United States is a purely humanitarian issue and should not be politicized.
Kanaani, who was reacting to statements by an American official who denied the deal, stated that a written agreement had been signed through an intermediary since March of last year, but the US administration has not implemented the deal under various excuses.
The spokesman called for the exchange to be carried out without any political games.
“An official representative introduced by the American side has also signed the agreement, but the deal has not been implemented so far by the US administration under various excuses,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian announced that Tehran and Washington have reached an initial agreement to exchange prisoners. “We have reached an agreement on the issue of prisoner swap in recent days,” said Iran’s top diplomat. He further stated that if everything goes well on the American side, the exchange would take place soon.
Amir-Abdollahian clarified that the groundwork for the prisoner swap has been prepared, and from Iran’s perspective, everything is in order. He noted that the US is currently working on the final technical coordination to facilitate the exchange.
Source: Al-Manar English Website