Does the Communist China-brokered Saudi-Iranian pact signify a new Middle East or merely a respite between regional rivals?
Episode 4 of “Our Middle East” features Dr. Harold Rhode, a 28-year U.S. diplomatic veteran who served as an adviser on the Islamic world in the office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense, stationed in U.S. embassies both in Iran and Iraq. Rhode breaks down the new Iranian-Saudi rapprochement, along with co-hosts Dan Diker and Khaled Abu Toameh.
The re-establishment of diplomatic ties between Tehran and Riyadh has sent shockwaves throughout the Middle East. Iran’s proxies in Yemen have targeted Saudi Arabia and caused the exacerbation of other regional conflicts, including in Israel via Hamas and Hezbollah. The new configuration placed China in the center as peacemaker and has highlighted America’s waning influence in the Middle East.
Yet, officially, the United States has blessed the move, as has nearly every Arab country in the Middle East. Iranian proxies and terror groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as every faction of the PLO, have also welcomed it, seeing it as a desirable blow to the Abraham Accords.
“All the bad guys are celebrating; it’s bad news for moderate Arabs and Muslims, Israel and the Biden administration,” says Abu Toameh. “America brought this upon themselves, it’s a slap in the face. It marks the beginning of the end of U.S. hegemony in the region—China and Russia are in, and America is out. This will have long-term repercussions on America’s standing in the region. Weakness empowers the radicals.”
Rhode commented on the animosity the Saudis have harbored towards the Americans since the latter began placing the blame on Saudi Leader Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) for ordering the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as a factor in the move toward Iran.
“In the Middle East shaming is at times even worse than killing somebody,” says Rhode, pointing to MBS’s cold reception of Biden recently. Yet, “Saudi Arabia, in the end, is weak, and it needs basically the support of a superpower, of someone that will protect it,” he continued, referring to the post-World War II arrangement that placed Saudis under the American military umbrella in return for oil.
Abu Toameh cites Arab columnists accusing the Americans of “abandoning its friends of turning its back on its Arab allies” in favor of Iran. “The Americans have lost much of their credibility in the region, as a result of the policies of the Biden administration,” he says.
Misunderstanding the region
All are in agreement that America’s blunders in the region stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of the Middle East, as well as of the Chinese.
Rhode, the author of “Modern Islamic Warfare: An Ancient Doctrine Marches On,” points to something shared in common by the Iranians and the Chinese.
“Iranians think strategically. Chess moves, eight steps ahead. Like the Chinese. Iran and China are ancient civilizations who suffered lots of invaders,” he says. “Iranians respect strength. In the West, you give a little. Not in the Middle East, where the victor dictates the terms to the vanquished,” he adds.
But what does this all mean for Israel and America’s standing in the region? What are the next steps that the United States and Israel should take? Is this a start to a new Middle East reality? Find out more in this week’s episode “Our Middle East”!
“Our Middle East: An Insider’s View” airs live every Monday on JNS TV Youtube Channel, Facebook and Twitter at 1:30 PM EST/8:30 PM IST. You can also listen to the audio version here. Produced by JNS in partnership with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Dan Diker is the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a foreign policy expert and the former Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning Arab-Israeli journalist and TV producer. He covers Palestinian affairs for The Jerusalem Post.