SAUDI ARABIA – IRAN Satloff: The agreement with Tehran is a ‘strategic’ decision by Riyadh. Yemen is the first test

According to the Washington Institute expert, the resumption of relations is “significant”. The euphoria over the Beijing mediation is overblown. There is no “strategic turn” from the Saudis. In Yemen it is necessary to reach a lasting truce. Israel, like the Emirates, can take the opportunity to expand the Abraham Accords. Saudi Arabia opens to investment in Iran.

Milan () – The resumption of relations between Tehran and Riyadh is “significant”, but Beijing’s role as a “mediator” or Riyadh’s “strategic change” is exaggerated, the aim of which is to minimize “external threats to security ” to continue with the reforms. These are some of the statements made by Robert Satloff, executive director of The Washington Institute, an expert on Middle East affairs and Arab-Israeli politics, in an interview he gave to . The academic points out that the ” The first test” of the agreement will be Yemen, where a lasting truce will have to be “built and maintained”. And unlike others, he believes that Israel is far from having lost, because “a decrease in tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran” opens the door “to stronger Riyadh ties with Israel”, as the United Arab Emirates has done recently.

Tehran and Riyadh broke relations in 2016 over the attack on the Saudi Arabian consulate in Iran in response to the execution of Shiite leader Nimr al-Nimr. The dispute triggered a series of regional repercussions, including the isolation of Qatar (which ended in early 2021) because it was seen as too close to Tehran. The two regional powers are on opposite fronts on many issues, from Yemen to Syria, as well as representing the two main reference points for Shiite and Sunni Islam. However, in April 2021 Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) declared that he wanted to maintain good relations with Tehran. The turning point was also determined by the change of administration in Washington, with the passage of “maximum pressure” from Donald Trump, to the attempt, so far unsuccessful, to reactivate the nuclear agreement. And today’s news is the announcement of possible “short-term” investments by Riyadh in Iranian territory. This was stated by Mohammed Al-Jadaan, Finance Minister of Saudi Arabia, who considers that the Islamic Republic offers “multiple opportunities” and there is no reason to rule out “significant” investments between the parties.

Here is the interview with Robert Satloff:

There are differing opinions on the resumption of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran: what is your opinion and what are – if any – the benefits for the two countries?

The resumption of Saudi-Iranian relations is significant, but it has provoked an overreaction both regarding China’s role as a regional mediator, and about Riyadh’s strategic turn of alliances with traditional partners in the direction of Beijing. In my opinion, this is mainly a strategic decision by Riyadh to reach a short-term truce in Yemen and on other fronts it has with Iran. The aim is to continue its vigorous policy of internal economic, social and cultural reforms, while minimizing external threats to security.

The US has historically been its first guarantor, but the Saudis have grown tired of the restrictions imposed by successive US administrations, and their progressive withdrawal from the region. Restoring relations with Iran does not mean abandoning Washington’s orbit in favor of an alliance with Tehran, because Saudi ties to US national security infrastructures are too deep and the differences with Iran too flagrant on the ideological, political planes. and relationships. This is a strategic turn, but the long-term implications remain uncertain. Saudi Arabia widens the circle of security partners, giving a greater role to Europeans (British and French) and even leaving room for Israel, which if it acts wisely can become a useful source of partnerships in high-profile areas. .

The agreement establishes two months for the parties to prove their goodwill. Do you think there will be new steps that mark a turning point between the two countries?

The first test of the agreement will be played in relation to Yemen, where it will be seen if they are able to build and maintain a lasting truce. Another test will be the Hajj, the great pilgrimage [que a menudo Riad ha utilizado como herramienta política, ndr] in late June, a scenario in which Iran has in the past deployed ruses and grudges against Saudi Arabia. But I’m sure there will be more tests on the way.

Behind the thaw would be the mediation of Beijing. Is it really a Chinese diplomatic (and economic) success in the Middle East that could change the balance of power – and influence – with the United States?

I think the role of China was less than what they say in closing the deal. On the other hand, it seems highly unlikely that Riyadh will place too much trust in a China that seems too far away as a real source of security. Betting on Beijing as mediator seems more like a deliberate slap in the face to the Biden administration, perhaps to make up for the White House’s refusal to apologize for the president’s criticism of oil policy in September. Note that the day after the deal was announced, another mega-contract for Riyadh’s multimillion-dollar purchase of more than a hundred Boeing planes was made public. The Saudis want to diversify their relations, not change teams.

Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq: there are many scenarios in which Tehran and Riyadh operate and influence the internal affairs of the countries, generally in conflict. Will there be news in these scenarios as well?

Some of these areas are more important for one actor or another, depending on the interests at stake. Yemen is a much higher priority for Saudi Arabia than for Iran; Lebanon, the homeland of Hezbollah, is a top priority for Iran, much more so than for the Saudis. So, it is probable that we will see changes from the least committed part, in the direction of the part that has the greatest interest in that field. [de conflicto].

Israel seems to be defeated by the resumption of relations between the Saudis and the Iranians. Are the “Abraham Accords” meant to stop at the gates of Riyadh?

No, in any case, it is the opposite! I believe that a relaxation of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran opens the door to stronger relations between Riyadh and Israel, rather than closing it. In my opinion, the Saudis seek to diversify partners, to create a real “portfolio” in security matters. And if Israel can convince Saudi Arabia that it can bring added value to the negotiating table, and provided the US completes the picture with its contribution, then there is no reason to reject the idea of ​​inter-Saudi normalization. and Israelis. Indeed, we have already seen how the UAE has taken advantage of its ties to both Israel and Iran, and there is no reason to think that the Saudis cannot follow a similar path.

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Written by Editor TLN

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