Iran–Saudi Deal: Not a Diplomatic Normalisation, But An ‘Architecture’
As this bellum (war) rolled across the region, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and others — all formerly rich states — were turned into economic dust-bowls of poverty.
The agreement reached by Saudi Arabia and Iran (and guaranteed by China) is not primarily about restoring diplomatic relations. Notably, the two teams were led by their heads of state security. Rather, the Accord is about building a new security architecture for the Region.
This potentially is revolutionary. Ever since Yitzhak Rabin in the early 1990s decided to invert “Israel’s” original security paradigm of ‘The Periphery’ (non-Arab states) versus “Israel’s” Arab Neighbourhood (in order to lay the ground-work for Rabin’s aspiration for some Palestinian understanding), the region has been turned into a desert of a contrived Anti-Security Architecture.
To achieve the objectives of seeking peace with the Arab sphere, the Israeli leadership — needing a cause around which Israelis and the US Congress could rally — demonised Iran. From that point on, Iran has been said (for some decades) to be at the very cusp of achieving a nuclear weapon (though it has never happened).
The consequence has been devasting: Iran curled into a prickly porcupine, with Ahmadinejad growling warningly to those who might come close to keep their distance. The US and “Israel” then turned the inherent intellectual and cultural polarisation arising from the Iranian Revolution from a major social occurrence, into a casus bellum.
The mantra was that for “Israel” and its Arab allies to feel safe, Iran and its revolutionary mindset must be destroyed — or at least mentally ‘re-wired’ towards western ways.
(Any parallel with today’s western calls for Russia to be broken up, up and to be subject to a mindset rehab is not coincidental.)
In consequence, as this bellum (war) rolled across the region, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and others — all formerly rich states — were turned into economic dust-bowls of poverty.
But then the geo-strategic ‘plates’ moved: It was obvious that US interest in the region was flagging badly — and it was equally clear that China and Russia were coming into their own, with a much more attractive formula than that of Washington: Instead of demanding absolute fealty and subordination, China insisted on respect for sovereignty and autonomy in respect other states’ internal affairs.
So, there was the ‘pull’ exerted on the two rival Islamic states by the rise of the new global powers (China-Russia); but the other part to the equation was that the Saudi leadership had become jaundiced by the US demeaning them as vassals. Even Trump insulted the Kingdom when he said the latter ‘could not last a week’ without US protection. And then when the Aramco facilities (Abqaiq) were attacked by missiles, where was their US protection? It was not there.
Two other elements were necessary for this agreement to have come into being: One was patient old-fashioned mediation (the process had begun in Beijing, some six years ago, during King Salman’s visit), but with President Xi giving the mediation his personal attention (a trait of diplomacy long-forgotten in the West).
And the second was that Iran had been emerging from its long sojourn of introspection — thanks in no small part to its engagement by Russia and China, and from the ‘window’ opened by the possibility for it to join the SCO and BRICS. Iran was being offered ‘depth’ — strategic and economic depth.
At the same time, Saudi Arabia has been slowly, but incrementally, distancing itself from the proposition first launched with Abdul Aziz ibn Saud in the early twentieth century by St. John Philby — that radical Wahhabism was the secret weapon by which the kingdom could secure its dominance over the Islamic world. A notion subsequently adopted with alacrity by western Intelligence services to service of weakening and containing Iran. Simply, MbS slowly had been de-weaponizing Wahhabism.
The moment, therefore, was propitious. And China seized it.
The most telling aspect was that the talks lasted over three days (6 -10 March), and that nothing leaked. The outcome struck Washington and “Tel Aviv”, as if by a thunderbolt.
Of course, we do not know the secret side agreements, but for sure, Saudi Arabia will have sought – and got – assurances that Iran will not pursue a nuclear weapon; that it will not threaten the kingdom’s vital infrastructure, or seek to de-stabilise the Kingdom; and that Saudi Arabia and Iran jointly will work to bring the Yemen war to an end.
Similarly, it is a certitude that Iran will have sought from Saudi Arabia that it cease funding external media stations seeking to broadcast their regime-change messages into Iran, and supporting movements such as the People’s Mojahedin Organization (MEK), certain Kurdish groups based in Iraq, and militants operating out of Baluchistan into Iran.
What does the architecture portend? Well, too much to list briefly, but as a thought exercise, imagine the consequences in Lebanon were Saudi and Iran jointly to resolve to end the miseries of the Lebanese people; the near-starvation in Syria, or the collapsed state of Iraq …
Imagine the economic consequences for Asia of a joint Iranian–Saudi/Gulf–Russian determination to effect a new energy policy in which they both act to shape commodity prices and also to give commodities a different pricing and selling structure.
And what of America and “Israel”? Well, Mark Dubowitz of the neo-con Foundation for the Defence of Democracies think-tank put it succinctly:
“[It is] a lose, lose, lose for American interests. It demonstrates that the Saudis don’t trust Washington to have their back, that Iran sees an opportunity to peel away American allies to end its international isolation, and it establishes China as the majordomo of Middle Eastern power politics”.
Simply put, Netanyahu’s dream of an Arab alliance coming together to support Israeli military action against Iran is over. This is significant, as Netanyahu well knows that Washington would never support military action against Iran, absent substantive, active Arab support behind it. That’s over, too. The 1980 Carter Doctrine that determined that the US would allow no rival to rise in the Middle East is over too. China-Russia and Eurasia is rising.
This Accord comes at an awkward time for Netanyahu. Iran was pencilled in to be the diversion for “Israel’s” spiking internal trauma. Now he has to confront the crisis with nothing more than the crisis itself.