X Close


by Kyle Orton
Tuesday, 14
March 2023
Reaction
14:00

The Saudi-Iran pact is no triumph for China

US influence in the Middle East may be declining, but the real winner is Russia
by Kyle Orton
Chinese diplomat Wang Yi between Saudi Arabia’s Musaad al-Aiban and Iran’s Ali Shamkhani.

At the end of last week Saudi Arabia and Iran restored diplomatic ties with one another after a seven-year hiatus. Much of the media coverage focused on China’s role in facilitating the détente, framing it as a “geopolitical realignment” in the Middle East. In this case, the pundits haven’t quite got it right.

Granted, the deal was signed in Beijing. And Saudi Arabia, Iran and China all signed a joint statement emphasising the need to develop “good neighbourly relations” between Tehran and Riyadh. But it was the Saudis who pushed for the deal.


Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email

Already registered? Sign in


In September 2019, Iran launched a massive attack on Saudi oil facilities, temporarily shutting down half of the Kingdom’s production. Then-president Donald Trump’s refusal to forcibly retaliate spooked the Saudis, who had until that point been vocally supportive of Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. In response, the Saudis halted their anti-Iran agitation and immediately began signalling a willingness to meet at the negotiating table.

Still, it is true that this deal is a sign of waning American influence in the region. China and Iran collaborated to present the pact with the Saudis in a way that humiliated the US, and its framing in much of the press as a Chinese diplomatic triumph has given them what they sought. 

The displacement of US hegemony in the Middle East began more than a decade ago, with Barack Obama’s quest for a nuclear deal. This was accompanied by a strategic shift, in which Iran was treated as a “normal” state and even as a potential partner in the region. Tehran had no interest in partnering with the US, but the clerical regime was very grateful for the space this gave them to consolidate their Islamist imperial project in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and beyond. This was often with (at a minimum) indirect support from the US under the banner of “fighting terrorism”, specifically ISIS.

While China has benefitted from its relationship with Iran, the main state beneficiary of the deal has been Russia, the third member of this increasingly integrated anti-Western alliance. Russia has been a strategic ally of Iran’s since at least the late 1980s. Wherever one goes, from Syria to Ukraine to Latin America, the other is right there alongside — and China is not far behind. 

This tripartite axis was broadly accommodated by the US’s principal Middle Eastern allies: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and even Israel. The shift became even clearer on the realisation that Trump’s primary difference from Obama in foreign policy was rhetorical, with many of these allies going through Moscow to make their terms. 

The possibility of this latest deal reducing regional “tensions” is based on the idea that instability is rooted in a two-sided “sectarian proxy war” between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Really, though, the trouble stems from the regime in Iran exporting its Revolution through subversion and terrorism against its neighbours. To the extent that this deal has any effect, it will be to enable that project.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
9 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
6 months ago

So how about you hear the story – the Big story, of USA and Allies these days. Of why China doing this deal with KSA and Iran is basically THE END of the old system, the end of the West as we know it…
Scott Ritter – Bakhmut is not just a Battle to Save Donbas
I even did your work and start at minute 26. The man Ritter – he is ex-US Marine. He was the UN weapons inspector in Iraq – he finally had to quit after years when he knew what he said did not matter – They would have their Iraq war no matter what! His Wife and Family are Georgian so he knows the Caucasus, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey – he Knows – he speaks the languages, he lives there…

He is not a trivial man. He is a real expert. You will not be the same after listening to him. And go back and watch it all if you care.

so minute 26 – then it goes to Saudi and Iran and China and Russia later – …..Then he goes off into Georgia and their war…. so scroll to Minute 42, for Xi and Ukraine and Russia – and BRICS and more. (then he ends the video with Xi and Zalenski and Putin)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3ykiZcnJ5I

Click on the Col Douglas MacGregor name below the video for more and more true words on the Ukraine War – and what this is doing to the world. By the way – you understand nothing of this war if you do not listen to this guy and MacGregor……

If you listen to a couple of these you will NOT be for this war.

I did not even read the above article closely because the writer seems he is seeing trees but not forest…I know this guy Ritter has his biases and agenda too – but to not listen to him just means you understand less. Colonel MacGregor – He is an Expert on this war too! Listen to him on other videos from the link on this video.

Nothing is like it seems. Nothing. A great Game is being played on the world, and it will have winners and losers. The West is led by foolish clowns, The East by ruthless Autocrats. I suspect over it all are the Global Elites – but maybe not, maybe they are foolish clowns too, or not…Everything is linked, nothing is going on in isolation.

Isabel Ward
Isabel Ward
6 months ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

Yes so you always say but what’s this got to do with the article which you didn’t read?

Emre S
Emre S
6 months ago

I don’t see the premise of the title reflected in the article – it does sound like it was a significant triumph for China.
It’s worth noting that Iran’s ability to export its revolution is limited, because it has a very sectarian basis, and is unlikely to work much on non-Shia populations. Also on this basis, Turkey and Iran are historical adversaries for more than 500 years, and that’s not going to change any time soon either. So really, the big question here is, what happens if/when Iran gets nuclear weapons.

David Barnett
David Barnett
6 months ago

China is in the business of securing its voracious energy needs. Expect the building of a pipeline from the Persian Gulf to China.
China is now pally with the world’s biggest net exporters of oil and gas.
By contrast, our mid-wit western rulers have been busy trashing our relations with all these suppliers. How is that in the best interests of ordinary westerners?

D Walsh
D Walsh
6 months ago

In 2019 it was the Houthis who attacked Saudi oil infrastructure, not Iran

Isabel Ward
Isabel Ward
6 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Technically correct but the weapons (drones) were supplied by whom?

D Walsh
D Walsh
6 months ago
Reply to  Isabel Ward

Well we just don’t know

But the one thing we can be sure of, Is that both the Saudis and Iran like the strong horse
I think peace is better than war, but I expect the neocons to try for regime change in Saudi, and war with Iran

No profit in peace boys, so we must fight some more

Last edited 6 months ago by D Walsh
Isabel Ward
Isabel Ward
6 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

What on earth do you mean we don’t know? You think the Houthis manufactured the drones themselves? Anyway bits of drone found in Saudi match those known to be made by Iran.

harry storm
harry storm
5 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

cynical bs.