The recent wave of global realignments among nations has taken an unexpected twist with a China-brokered accord between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The longtime geopolitical foes signed a treaty ending a seven-year rift in relations. The March 10 détente restored diplomatic ties with the reopening of embassies in both countries by May. The moving toward the easing of tensions between the Muslim nations included affirmed mutual respect for the “sovereignty of states” and “non-interference in internal affairs.”
The agreement also revived security cooperation agreements inked in 2001 and a 1998 pact on trade, investment, technology, and culture. But with China brokering the move, heads turned, with questions on if it meant a power shift in the oil-rich region broadly dominated by the United States.
“Yes, I think it is,” said Mouin Rabbani, analyst and co-editor of Jadaliyya Magazine, an electronic publication of the Arab Studies Institute. “But at the same time, I wouldn’t exaggerate it in the sense of saying this is a definitive shift,” he told The Final Call.
It shouldn’t be viewed as, last week the U.S.- dominated the Middle East and this week the U.S. has become an insignificant player replaced by China, said Mr. Rabbani. “I think it’s much more subtle than that,” he added.
Mr. Rabbani explained the agreement is significant but “not a sea change” in Mideast politics.
The agreement culminated five days of talks in Beijing. Similar efforts were hosted by Oman and Iraq from 2021-2022. In an open press event, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi; Iran’s Supreme National Security Council secretary, Ali Shamkhani; and Saudi National Security Adviser Musaad bin Mohammed al-Aiban signed the agreement and shook hands.
Some see the move as China’s expansion as a global power that has primarily focused on economic relations but seeks to play a larger strategic and diplomatic role in the Middle East.
As America’s principal global rival, China stepped into a void spurned by Washington’s combative posture toward Tehran. The U.S., an ally of Saudi Arabia, doesn’t have diplomatic ties with Iran. In addition, America, along with the Zionist State of Israel, has been a source of division, not reconciliation.
Implications for U.S. and Israel
Iran has been the prime target for meddling and destabilization by Israel and the U.S. The antagonism has brought the three nations to the precipice of conflict.
In previous interviews, analysts told The Final Call the aim of Washington and Tel Aviv was to forge a regional band of belligerents against Tehran among Arab nations. However, with this new arrangement and Beijing in the mix, it remains to be seen the future for such a coalition, say observers.
For Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, drafting Saudi Arabia was his hope to seal Israel’s place in the region. A Saudi and Iranian olive branch is terrible news for Israel. The Jewish state is mired in a “national nightmare” of anti-government demonstrations by Jews themselves, and a possibility of a third Intifada among Palestinians is heightening.
Reacting to the agreement, Mr. Netanyahu blamed the move on political weakness shown by the Joseph Biden administration and the prior Israeli government. Naftali Bennet, a Netanyahu opponent and former premier in the last government, called the pact a “resounding failure” for Netanyahu. “Countries in the world and the region see Israel divided with a nonfunctional government, focused on serial self-destruction,” he said.
Despite Mr. Netanyahu’s blame-shifting, the U.S. still reassured Israel’s security during a March 10 visit by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. He solidified security assistance to Israel, not touching a $38 billion Memorandum of Understanding and commitment to its qualitative military edge regionally.
Speaking to reporters in Ethiopia on March 16, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken placed a “no-worry” spin on the Chinese-brokered deal. “From our perspective, anything that can help reduce tensions, avoid conflict, and curb in any way dangerous or destabilizing actions by Iran is a good thing,” Mr. Blinken remarked. “If this agreement actually bears out … if Iran follows through on the commitments that it’s apparently made … that would be positive,” he said.
Answering criticism that America was sidelined and is disengaged from the move, The White House said the deal is not “fundamentally adverse to U.S. interests” in the region. However this position contradicts President Biden’s braggadocios claim, while visiting the region last year that: “We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia, or Iran.”
However, Mazin Qumsiyeh, professor and researcher at Bethlehem University in Palestine, said the development comes while China is rising, America is falling, and Israel is imploding.
“The U.S. as a superpower is aging and in decline partly because of hypocrisy in its foreign dealings, driven by lobbies and special interests,” said Dr. Qumsiyeh in an email response to The Final Call. “China is a rising power with economic interests but not imperial interests in the way (the) U.S. and Britain functioned,” he explained.
China is the main trading partner with the Middle East. But while America is falling, added Mr. Qumsiyeh, she still exercises “hegemony because of her petrodollar and military might” over the area.
The United States has been the major mediator in the Middle East for decades and maintains at least 18 military bases and around 40,000 troops permanently in the region. Although America was not in the discussions, she still holds tremendous sway in the Muslim world. Agreements between the two major Muslim powers are also significant at a time of universal change.
The disagreement placed a spotlight on the great divide between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam spoke words of warning concerning the animosity and disunity within the Muslim world. He warned about a universal change in motion and a time of great trouble.
“The heavy clouds of war are gathering over the Muslim world,” Minister Farrakhan said on an international prayer call closing out the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan on May 2, 2022.
“What chastisement awaits us who have taken the Holy Qur’an and put it behind our back, and we talk about Allah, and we talked about the Qur’an, but how many of us are trying to live the prayers that we say, that after we pray we go about doing evil?” asked the Minister.
“What has happened to the Ummah? The chastisement is on its way,” he said.
Minister Farrakhan condemned the divisions and the “poison mischief makers” like America “creating the mischief that will cause Muslims to shed the blood of Muslims.”
The Arab world is a major purchaser of U.S. war ware, aimed at each other. The Western Powers see the power of wealth in the Muslim world. Minister Farrakhan’s teacher, the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the Eternal Leader of the Nation of Islam, warned America is coming out of the Middle East. War will be in the Middle East and when America comes out, the question was asked, will there be bloodshed? And He said one word, “plenty.”
Analysts said Riyad and Tehran had diplomatic dealings, but relations were unstable for the most part since the 1979 Iranian Islamic revolution that ended centuries of monarch rule in Iran.
The predominantly Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia closing ranks has wide-ranging implications for the troubled Middle East. The move follows a pattern of settling differences within the region, including reversing a 2017 to 2021 Saudi-led boycott of Qatar by Gulf States. In September 2022 Iran reopened diplomatic gates for the United Arab Emirates and welcomed an Emirati ambassador after six years of soured relations. A month earlier, Kuwait sent its first ambassador to Tehran since 2016.
Mouin Rabbani doesn’t believe the Saudis or others decided they no longer want a strategic relationship with the U.S. They are maintaining relations with Washington but are fostering relations with China, Russia, and India to diversify instead of putting all their eggs in one basket.
These governments continue to see the West and particularly America as the ultimate guarantor of their security and survival, even if in the past decade they experienced misgivings. But observers say until the presence of mischief makers is uprooted, the diplomatic win may not be permanent.
“I think, perhaps a more accurate way to look at it is that they’re hedging their bets,” said Mr. Rabbani.