Riyadh broke off diplomatic ties with Tehran after Iranian protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran in 2016 after Saudi authorities sentenced to death the revered Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was tried by a Saudi special court. was sentenced to death on charges of seeking ‘foreign interference’. Saudi Arabia, to ‘disobey’ its rulers and take up arms against security forces.
After seven years, the two countries have signed a relatively narrow agreement regarding the reopening of embassies in each other’s capital, restoration of trade ties and protection from attacks. These further steps are indeed necessary to improve bilateral economic ties and reduce tensions to some extent, but they are not sufficient to resolve their ideological and political differences, the two main factors that have contributed to their long-standing conflict. were important to the rivalry.
For the last four decades, Saudi and Iran have been competing to increase their sphere of influence in the Muslim world. The root of this silent war between them is the Shia-Sunni divide and Iran’s refusal to accept the moral right of the “nascent” Saudi monarchy to rule the holy land of Islam.
But in order to remain in power, they cannot refuse to listen to the voices of a large number of citizens of their countries. Like others, the Iranians and Saudis naturally want their leaders to focus their attention on domestic affairs rather than isolate, promote chaos in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, foster harmony, at least At least provide some democratic rights and welfare of your people at home. Destabilizing Qatar and Lebanon. With sectarian overtones, these proxy wars have crippled the sponsors’ economies, damaged their societies and undermined their own security.
practical In fact The young ruler of Saudi Arabia has realized of late the futility of continuing this state policy. Not only is the war in Yemen a huge drain from their coffers, the Iranian-backed Houthis are now inflicting heavy damage on their oil facilities and, with no apparent end in sight, must find a face-saving exit. The rapprochement with Israel cannot be continued further, especially with the advent of the far-right government there. The Saudis did not become party to the Abraham Accords because Israel had not yet officially accepted the “two-state” solution – a Saudi precondition for normalizing its relations with Israel. And the new Israeli government has made it clear that it believes in ‘one state’.
It is true that Saudi Arabia is highly oppressed by Israel and there have been subtle signs of possible cooperation such as the Saudis allowing Israel to use their airspace for their international flights, Israel’s Prime Minister visiting Riyadh and so on. Unofficial and unannounced travel of sorts. But heeding the voice of the Arab streets, he had to make it clear to the Israelis that they could not take lightly Saudi support for military action against any country in the region, including Iran.
The Saudi ruler is also aware that any deal with Iran will certainly anger the United States (US), which through sanctions and regional pressure is trying to force Saudi Arabia to impose a new nuclear deal on Iran. Abraham is trying to expand the agreement by including. While Saudi Arabia is almost entirely dependent on the US for its defence, the Crown Prince wants to follow a hybrid policy like the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Through this hybrid policy, Saudi Arabia can also secure its interests first.
As far as Iran is concerned, it is under tremendous pressure from both inside and outside. A long period of nationwide protests against the death of a young girl, Mahasa Amini, in police custody has shaken their political structure, economic sanctions have crippled their economy, under constant pressure from the IAEA, the European Union and of course the US. Simultaneous threat is to stop enriching uranium, to drop oil exports to a trickle, to support wars/political unrest in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon, to drain the remaining funds from their national coffers, to give the ruling Supreme Council a tight rein Kept in the corner. Iran desperately needs to get out of this mess.
It is under these circumstances that both Saudi Arabia and Iran have agreed in principle to end a conflict that has proved costly and toxic for both countries and disastrous for West Asia. Iraq agreed to Dai and provided all necessary assistance, facilities and security to both sides. Five rounds of direct talks between 2022 and now between Amir Saeed Irani, former deputy to the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), and Khalid bin Ali al-Humaidan, now Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations and director general of the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate Have passed As the chief negotiator of both the countries. The Iranian delegation was a mix of experts from the Intelligence and Foreign Ministries and the SNSC. After the fifth round, both sides agreed on a common roadmap for normalizing ties. They were quite hopeful of finalizing their cooperation agreement very soon. However, the political unrest that followed was not found conducive to the continuation of further talks in Baghdad. Although all stakeholders in the region and abroad were aware of these developments, there was no public announcement from the parties involved in the peace talks.
A new venue was being sought to continue their conversation. No mutually accepted trusted countries were found except for China, which has excellent political and economic relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran. China also saw a huge opportunity to enter the Middle East, which it had been eyeing for a long time. US political power in the region is eroding and Russia is busy fighting in Ukraine – hardly in a position to reasonably assist a friend. So there was a void. Why not capitalize on it? Hence, it wanted to play the role of matchmaker and fill the strategic void. If successful, it can certainly demonstrate its credentials as a trusted global partner. And a marriage of convenience driven by national interest and shaped by political and economic calculation has already been finalized in Baghdad. China played the role of priest.
By re-establishing its ties with Iran, Saudi Arabia has certainly placed a premium on Iran over an outright rapprochement with Israel. It also signals a Saudi diplomatic move to mend its rift with Turkey and Qatar. However, between the signing of a narrow-based agreement and its actual implementation and implications, there have been many slips.
Indeed, the Saudi-Iran deal is perhaps the first sign of a changing region in the East where countries are acting more freely. They are no longer entirely dependent on global powers to shape relations among themselves. But at the same time, it should not be expected that Saudi Arabia and Iran will change their foreign policies as well as relations with their current allies in the short term. The Saudis cannot shake the US from their global strategic partnership. recently wall street journal And this new York Times The report added that Saudi privately lobbied for “security guarantees from the United States and assistance with the civilian nuclear program in return for an agreement with Israel”. In addition, there are many issues where Saudi Arabia and Iran distrust each other and there are many friction points.
Iran’s traditional forces are weak. While reestablishing its ties with Saudi Arabia, Iran cannot afford to end its proxy support in countries where it plays a military and political role. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which it controls and operates through those proxies, plays the most important role in Iran’s foreign policy. Therefore, Iran certainly has not been able to make its surrogates orphans in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iraq.
In this volatile situation, it is too early to comment definitively on future Saudi-Iranian cooperation and Israel’s relations with Riyadh. But one thing can be said for sure: China will remain in the region after completing the Saudi-Iran deal. She will do her best to reconcile and normalize friendly relations between them. This would allow China to gain a stronger foothold in this part of the world at the expense of its arch rival, the US.
This article is written by Soumen Ray, former Indian Ambassador and High Commissioner, who has served extensively in the Gulf, West Asia and East and Southern African countries.