Saudi-Iran Detente: A Black Swan Event – OpEd
The epochal deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran brokered by China is a huge development that will have long-lasting implications for the region as well as for world politics. This agreement is part of new alignments which are in the making.
Undoubtedly, China is the winner of the deal which might diminish the US interests in the Gulf region. While, for the Middle East, it could be the right direction towards peaceful settlements, overcoming sectarian differences, and for Pakistan, this agreement could bring economic benefits alongside reducing sectarian divide.
Saudi Arabia and Iran established diplomatic relations in 1929 by signing the Saudi _Iranian friendship treaty. In 1966 King Faisal visited Iran. In response, Raza Shah Pahlavi visited Riyadh and issues of Islands were settled. In addition, Raza Shah supported Saudi efforts for the establishment of the OIC. Moreover, Raza Shah had sent many letters to Shah Faisal suggesting him modernize the kingdom. Both countries were aligned with the Western bloc in the cold war against the USSR.
The relations have seen pits and fall due to sectarian differences and economic interests. When Iraq invaded Iran, Saudi Arabia supported the Iraqi invasion. While, when the same Saddam Hussain invaded Kuwait both Saudi Arabia and Iran condemned the invasion. More, a comprehensive bilateral cooperation agreement was signed in 1998 to cooperate in economic, cultural, and sports. While another Saudi-Iran security agreement was signed in 2001.
In addition, for increasing bilateral cooperation, President Ahmadi Nijad went to Riyadh in 2007 and was welcomed at the Airport by King Abdullah. The relations became strained after 2016 when Saudi Arabia sentenced a Shia scholar Sheikh Nimr albaqir al Nimr. In its response the embassy of Saudi Arabia was burned down resultantly Saudi Arabia ended diplomatic relations.
Analysts are seeing it through the prism and part of Saudi vision of 2030 which aims to transfer the economy from oil to tourism, business hub, investment, and technology. For attaining these goals, peace and brotherly relations are vital for the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In addition, China could be a major player in the success of the 2030 vision which has the expertise, raw materials, low cast labor, and is a good investment which we have been observing in its OBOR initiative, both Saudi Arabia and Iran are reasonable Oil destinations for China which is already important 40 percent of its Oil needs from the gulf states.
For China, this agreement is a huge political and diplomatic win as China has been occupying trade markets through peaceful means and diplomatic skills as compared to America which has been supporting one or another state again others in the region. It is also seen as a huge step towards the Chinese global security initiative and a game changer for Chinese hegemony. In addition, conflict in Gulf does not suit China. If the prices of oil are high. China will suffer.
For instance, in 2019 when Saudi Oil facilities were hit by the Houthies the tension resulted in a price hike of Oil around 14 percent that put extra pressure on the Chinese economy. Kristin Smith Diwan, from the Arab states institute, sees the Chinese role in this perspective and opines that “China has truly arrived as a strategic actor in the Gulf.”
As for as America is concerned, this agreement has been considered a huge pushback for its diplomacy and a gigantic geopolitical challenge. America was the only party that was giving military and political aid to the region. But after the 1990s Chiana’s emergence changed the situation. Now China is an alternate along with Russia. This agreement will bring Iran and Saudi Arabia close to China as history witnesses that the region has been an epicenter of American influence for decades. Moreover, this agreement is seen as a hope for peace in the region which Could cool regional flash points and make a better security situation. Better diplomatic linkages between Saudi and Iran will help in reducing tensions in the region.
For Pakistan, this agreement is a welcome step at a time when the country is in the grip of sectarian violence and economic meltdown. Pakistan has always tried mediation and wished for peace between both countries. This accord could help in boosting the importance of the CPEC. Pakistan could benefit from new economic developments that might occur in near future provided that this agreement lasts long as Pakistan could be a gateway for a trade where 40 percent of the Chinese energy is imported from the Gulf.
For the Middle East, analysts are hoping for peace as both states have been involved in civil war. Iran backs Houthis while Saudi backs exiled government in Yamen. Saudi is a foe of Bashar ul Asad in Syria while Iran supports him. Iran supports Hassan Nasrullah in Beirut while Saudi opposes him. The same situation of the sectarian divide is all over the Muslim world. This agreement can help end conflicts.
While for Israel who wished for good relations with Saudi Arabia on the price of Iran, this agreement could be both helpful and harmful. If it wants peace with Iran, as it has initiated the Abraham accord for peace and economic development of the region, Saudi can play a role and if Israel wants to encounter Iran, this agreement could prove to be a loss and this detente could be a setback for Israel who was struggling to isolate Iran.
The historic compact between Saudi Arabia and Iran mediated by China is a huge development that would have momentous implications on regional and world geopolitics. On one side, it is considered a big win for Chinese foreign policy while at the same time, analysts consider it a major blow to the US foreign policy and its interests in the middle east. Meanwhile, hopes are alive that this deal could pave way for regional peace and sectarian harmony in the Muslim world. Last but not least, one may not be in a position to assess its future, however, one may deliberate that China is penetrating the Middle Eastern countries to fill the gap of America from whom the Middle Eastern states look disappointed.
Naseeb Ullah Achakzai is a freelance columnist and has done M.phil political science.