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Source: Forbes

Mar 27, 2023

Guney Yildiz, Contributor

Change is brewing in the Middle East. The region’s political landscape transforms as rapprochements emerge. In a turn startling observers, China has brokered a détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia, whose enmity has long been a cornerstone of Middle Eastern strife.

Within mere days under Beijing’s watch, the reconciliation between these regional powerhouses altered the political landscape’s main contours.

Yet, the Saudi-Iran reconciliation is not the only instance of regional realignment — efforts are also underway to rehabilitate the Assad regime back into the regional fold.

As new alliances crystallize, winners and losers emerge in their wake. These developments have far-reaching implications for the region's actors, and understanding their roots and consequences is essential for any observer.

Gaining momentum, the China-brokered Saudi-Iran normalization progresses, as reopening embassies and increasing diplomatic engagement between the two nations appear likely. Both countries stand to benefit from this thaw in relations: Iran breaks free from isolation, while Saudi Arabia could potentially extricate itself from the costly and protracted conflict in Yemen, where it has been pitted against Iranian-backed Houthi forces.

China steps in

It was nearly two years ago when Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman expressed his wish for "good relations" with Iran in an interview with Al Arabiya TV. Saudi and Iranian officials had reportedly engaged in dialogues in Iraq to repair their frayed relationship, but progress languished in the absence of a formidable mediator.

In 2016, Saudi Arabia severed its ties with Iran after a heated altercation between the two nations over Riyadh's execution of a Shi'ite Muslim cleric culminated in the storming of its embassy in Tehran.

China's rationale for playing peacemaker in the Middle East is twofold: to outmaneuver the United States and to ensure regional stability, which would facilitate the implementation of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This global infrastructure project seeks to bolster trade and economic connections between China, Europe, and Africa. Additionally, Beijing depends on the Middle East to satisfy its vast energy requirements.

On the Syrian front, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) spearheads the charge to reconnect with Syria.Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, once determined to oust the Assad regime, now seeks a face-to-face discussion with his Syrian counterpart.

The Abraham Accords, a string of normalization agreements between Israel and several nations, including the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco, once seemed to lay the groundwork for an anti-Iran coalition. However, as the region's dynamics shift, the future of such a coalition now appears uncertain.

The Relative Decline of American Influence


The US loses out. Washington until recently the dominant force in the Middle East, now finds itself on the losing end of the Iran-Saudi deal, with China emerging as the victor. Its receding commitment to the Middle East leaves a vacuum that non-Arab powers like Russia, Iran, Turkey, and China are eager to fill. The declining American influence in the region has prompted formerly pro-US regional powers to hedge their bets, turning towards alternative allies and forming new relationships. This shift represents a significant setback for the United States, which has long been a dominant force in the region.

Neglect has consequences. For years Washington upheld an artificial balance of forces between friends and foes in the Middle East. Years of gradual US disengagement have deprived the region off its main anchor for stabilisation, eroding trust in American commitments, and contributing to current shifts in regional dynamics. The abandonment of allies in Afghanistan and the Syrian Kurds exemplifies this decline. The resulting power vacuum has provided non-Arab powers with an opportunity to assert their influence, further complicating the region's delicate balance of power.

Implications for Israel

TOPSHOT - An Israeli flag is seen placed on Mount Bental in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on May ... [+]


Israel faces challenges. The US’s pattern of lack of commitment to its allies doesn’t apply to Israel. There is no question on how firm Washington’s commitment to maintain its ally’s security. However, Iran's diplomatic breakthroughs and evolving political landscape threaten Israel's standing.

Regarding rehabilitation of Syria, Israel initially welcomed Russia's engagement in Syria, believing it could counterbalance Iran's influence in the country. However, the Gulf states' shifting stance on Iran while normalizing relations with Syria presents a concerning development for Israel.

Long-term effects?

As we observe these developments, it is crucial to consider the potential long-term effects on the Middle East. Will increased diplomacy lead to a more stable, peaceful region, or will it merely give rise to new conflicts and power struggles? The answers to these questions will undoubtedly have far-reaching consequences for the region's people, governments, and international relationships.

The changing political landscape in the Middle East has produced a series of winners and losers. Iran and Syria emerge stronger, while the United States and Israel face significant setbacks.Rapprochements benefit Iran and Syria more than any other country, while the US and Israel face significant challenges.

Human rights implications also loom large, as Middle Eastern countries with poor track records find newfound camaraderie. The peoples of these nations may suffer as a result, with autocratic leaders gaining strength from their reinforced alliances. The situation is further complicated by the fact that foreign hostility has rarely benefitted the peoples of the region in the past.

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Guney Yildiz

As a London-based research analyst and journalist, I focus on Turkey, the Middle East, and their relationships with Europe, the U.S., and Russia.

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