New political order in old Persia
MARCH 2023 opened a new chapter in the regional politics of the Middle East when Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to reshape their decades-old rivalry by restoring their diplomatic ties after ending seven-year of a blood-drenched era. They buried the hatchet in Beijing with the Chinese mediation after two years of difficult negotiations held in Baghdad, Oman secretly and finally in China that holds promises. This announcement was surprising. Many observers believe that Beijing’s successful negotiations resulted in the breakthrough because it demonstrates its intention and effort to foster peace in the region through political discourse as well as its efforts to improve the execution of the GSI, which seeks to eradicate the root causes of contemporary crises and promote global prosperity and security.
Beijing has sought a balancing approach in its relations with both Tehran and Riyadh since long, while recognizing the need to foster substantial ties with both. Unlike USA, because of Beijing’s natural approach in the area, they have demonstrated the capacity for transcending the rivalries that crisscross the Middle East. Consequently, Beijing is well-positioned to stimulate dialogue between the two countries and assist in resolving their differences. It is noteworthy that cooperation between Riyadh and Tehran could alter the Middle Eastern geopolitical landscape but considering they are the world’s largest oil producers, a positive and constructive relationship between them can have far-reaching positive consequences for both Tehran and Riyadh.
Riyadh and Tehran have remained at enmity based on ideological differences dating back to 1979, when Iran’s Islamic Revolution imposed an anti-western religious state. Since then, both states have regarded each other as a threat. Apparently ideological differences between two states; Tehran is an unwavering supporter of the Shia community; whereas Riyadh is considered as a champion of the Sunni-sect, which is reflected in indirect proxy war in Yemen and Syria. Moreover, the ethnic divide in the Middle East has led both nations vying for regional dominance. Other nations in the region with Shia or Sunni majorities also align themselves with one or the other state which has further complicated the situation in the past, whereas for a decade and a half that followed, violent strife pitting Riyadh-backed militants against Tehran-backed paramilitaries flooded across much of the area.
Some speculations are swing of economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 epidemic and costly wars may have dampened appetite for violence, so the authorities in Riyadh and Tehran show a tilt to close that chapter. This détente is regarded as a new global order in world’s politics. The restart of diplomatic relations looks to be only the beginning of the détente which will lead to resolve indirect confrontation between both states in old Persia. Representatives in Riyadh and Tehran said they will also try to resuscitate a years-old security cooperation pact as well as an even older accord on technology and commerce. The question now is how they will play out and if they will be able to reverse the havoc caused by the rivalry remain to be seen.
The United Nations (UN) has also lauded Beijing’s contribution to the process. While the majority of member countries, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Iraq, Pakistan and Cuba, acknowledge the agreement, the UN website adds that it “acknowledges the diplomatic efforts leading to this important step”. Contrarily, Jerusalem and Washington take this development as an intimidation. Trita Parsi, the Executive Vice President of the Washington-based Quincy Institute, tweeted “many in Washington will view Beijing’s emerging role as mediator in the Middle East as a threat”, on the other side Jerusalem takes this development as a clear threat in terms of transfer of its technology to Tehran. After this agreement, Jerusalem has started to rethink on Abraham Accord and also stopped negotiations on transfer of advance defense system tag $1 billion. Some analysts comprehended that this agreement will lead to significant changes from diplomatic to the geopolitics of the Middle East, if realized.
But when it comes to its viability there are a few reservations. Whether the agreement will last or return to old rivalry and what is the status of broker party in this agreement? How will the signatories or Beijing respond to any violation? Will Beijing have the capacity to implement its diplomatic breakthrough without getting further entangled in the region’s complicated politics? Realistically Riyadh had strong reliance on Jerusalem and Washington’s security and weapons system even recently they have signed one of the biggest-ever aircraft orders with Boeing, which is worth about $37 billion. On the other hand, Beijing’s strategic importance to Tehran is not hidden after $40 billion Investment. Moreover, Riyadh is investing along Beijing in the African region. After this agreement, Beijing is now the godfather if anyone will break this agreement, it will be hurting its ties to Beijing that has put its full prestige into the ‘tripartite’ agreement.
—The writer is Research Officer (Iran Programme), Institute of Regional Studies Islamabad.
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