The agreement signed between Saudi Arabia and Iran, mediated by China, grabbed international headlines last week. In most countries, the event received headlines as a regular news report. In Israel, it was received differently.
The struggle between Israel and Iran is no secret, as is Iran’s desire to see Israel destroyed. This is a long-term conflict that includes other countries as part of a struggle over values and worldviews, with both Israel and Iran striving to widen the circle of nations that are on their respective sides.
However, contrary to what many might assume, the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran does not mean much in relation to the struggle between Israel and Iran. It is true that Israel looks at any such political agreements through the prism of the conflict with Iran and its interests therein. This is understandable because the conflict is seen as existential.
For many years, there have been reports of secret ties and shared interests between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state. In particular, it has been said, the two see Iran as a common enemy. After the signing of the Abraham Accords and against the background of the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, there were unofficial talks about making the secret relations more public.
This was the mindset when former President Donald Trump was in power and normalization was in the air. Unfortunately, this changed direction with the change of administration in the U.S.
The U.S. distanced itself from Saudi Arabia after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Perhaps out of a desire for revenge, Saudi Arabia did not comply with the U.S. request to increase oil production and ease the rise of oil prices after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
When Saudi Arabia realized that relations with the U.S. were not improving, it became relevant in the eyes of America’s rival China. That’s the real story.
In Israel, the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran grabbed headlines due to the fear that Iran would become stronger and progress further on its nuclear program, which is gaining momentum. The assumption is that such an agreement harms the undeclared peace between Saudi Arabia and Israel. However, practically speaking, it will have little effect.
The agreement is, in fact, mainly about China, which wants to strengthen its international status. Saudi Arabia will not stop seeing Iran as a rival and will not end its secret relations with Israel. Perhaps it will take advantage of the situation to ameliorate the never-ending civil war in Yemen, but this is now China’s problem.
The competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran is part of a long-standing struggle rooted in the enmity between Sunnis and Shiites. Just as previous attempts by Iran and Saudi Arabia to normalize relations failed, so this attempt is expected to fail. At the very least, it will not harm Israel’s interests.
Gregg Roman is the director of the Middle East Forum.