Saudis and Iran restore diplomatic ties and defense pact

A major setback for the US – less for Israel – was delivered on Friday, March 10 by the Saudi-Iran decision to restore diplomatic relations, seven years after they were cut off. Their mutual defense-military pact,  severed in 2001, was also resumed and their embassies are to reopened within two months. The announcement came from the two national security advisers, Ali Shamkhani for Tehran and Musaad bin Mohammed al-Aiban for Riyadh, joined by Beijing’s senior diplomat Wang Yi. It wound up the sixth round of talks leading up to the accord in Beijing following earlier rounds in Oman and B. It is now up to the two foreign ministers to name their respective ambassadors.

In his statement, Shamkhani commented that the accord will contribute to the strengthening of Iran’s ties with the Gulf Arab nations and the Muslim world at large.

And indeed, the breakthrough will cool security tensions in the Middle East as a whole in the sense that it obligates Tehran to rein in the Shiite military satellites –  Hizballah in Lebanon, Iraqi militias and the Yemen Houthi rebels – from continuing their aggressive actions against  its Saudi neighbor. For China, the deal is a diplomatic coup strengthening its foothold in the Gulf. Just four months ago, President Xi Jinping was welcomed in Riyadh and a month ago, Iran’s President Ibrahim Raisi visited Beijing.
The full resumption of diplomatic and defense ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran is a major slap for US President Joe Biden’s aspirations in the Gulf region. The administration has been working hard to persuade Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman to cool Riyadh’s ties with Moscow and Beijing, focusing heavily – and unsuccessfully – on getting him to abandon his deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin to keep world oil prices at a high level. Washington has also been eying with concern Chinese weapons shipments to Saudi Arabia, including nuclear technology. All in all, Riyadh’s alignment with Moscow and Beijing is the source of sleepless nights in Washington.

As for Israel, aside from its propaganda value, the new Saudi pact with Iran does not change much on the current state of ties between Israel and Riyadh, which anyway has been wary of following the UAE and Bahrain into joining the Abaham normalization accords. The Saudi Crown Prince is a force unto himself and will not be deterred by his accord with Tehran should he decide to jump aboard the Abraham boat after all.  

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