Israel And The Saudi-Iran Rapprochement: What Next?

Israel And The Saudi-Iran Rapprochement: What Next?
Israel has long been working secretly and openly to gain legitimacy and support from Arab states. The Abraham Accords, and generally the strengthening of ties with Turkey and various Persian Gulf states, have been a positive result of this approach followed by Israel for the Middle East. The purpose is to not just gain legitimacy, but also to isolate Iran and be the strong power in the Middle East. However, the recent development of Iran-Saudi re-engagement could destroy this hard work of years and may create an unfavourable atmosphere for Israel in the near future, resulting in more covert or direct military skirmishes with Iran or its allied groups like Hezbollah, Hashad al-Shabi, Kataib Hezbollah, etc in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. This re-engagement, along with Iran’s military involvement with China and Russia such as buying Su-35 fighter jets from Russia and conducting naval exercises with both, adds more to the isolation of Israel and indicates a shift in the regional politics of the Middle East.

The Iranian rapprochement with Saudi could result in the decline of Israel’s power in the Middle East and the state of insecurity for Israel seems to be going nowhere in near future for this re-engagement and relationships with Russia and China rings bells for Israel's future adventures in Syria and any possible direct conflict with Iran would be retaliated harshly due to Iran getting access to latest military technologies with help of Russia and China. This could be the turning point for Israel in its pursuit of regional hegemony and legitimacy.

The major focus of Israel's foreign policy has been on two fronts. Firstly, to expand Israel's geographical control at the expense of neighbours such as Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan – and also the annihilation of former Palestinian Territories as a whole. The second aim is to have soft power to get legitimacy from Muslim states and increase political influence across the region with economic and military engagements, to not just isolate Iran and be the regional hegemon, but to also create a favourable environment for the US.

This policy of Israel, with the support of the US, was successful to some extent as major shifts were seen in favour of Israel. Following the Abraham Accords, many regional Persian Gulf states accepted Israel or showed a willingness to establish trade ties with Israel. The trade and diplomatic ties with these Gulf states would mean fewer chances of à direct military conflict with them, ensuring Israel's long-term security and survival.

All of this seems to have proved futile with just one political move by China i.e. making arch-rivals Saudi and Iran into new partners.

Iran and Saudi Arabia’s recent deal calls for a peaceful atmosphere where both states would enjoy sovereignty, follow a non-interference policy, stop funding rival groups – including media outlets like Iran International supported by Riyadh – and guarantee no direct attacks by Iranian allies in the region against Saudi Arabia.

Will this deal be honoured in the true sense? The answer to this question is quite difficult to provide at the moment.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have been fighting each other since the Iranian revolution of 1979 and surely have invested a lot in neutralising threats relating to each other. Various lobbies and groups of both countries will have a hard time accepting this truce, because of the excessive brainwashing of such groups against each other.

At the same time, this very religious element can play a positive role too. In any other conflict, this type of rapprochement would have been much harder for states, as they would have to control their allies or shift their policies. But, due to the concept of Muslim brotherhood and unity, religious sentiment can play an important role in adjusting the behaviours of rival groups, portraying the US and Israel as their prime opponents and fraternal relations between Muslims as the necessity of the time.

The US and Israel would find it hard to replace the role that Saudi Arabia was playing for them in the containment of Iran and making the Middle Eastern region a safe zone for the US to activate and pursue regional hegemony, containment of Iran and blocking China's way for economic involvement in the region.

Iran, Russia and China recently had naval drills in the Gulf of Oman, and Saudi Arabia officially invited Iranian President Ayatollah Ibrahim Raeesi for an official visit to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The acknowledgment of the Iranian foreign minister of a soon-to-happen meeting with his Saudi counterpart indicates how rapidly these changes are taking place.

If the re-engagement between Iran and Saudi Arabia is successful, the Middle Eastern region will soon come out of the darkest days of the old Cold War-fueled divisions and conflict, leading towards a peaceful and economically integrated region. The signs of this are apparent, as Saudi Arabia has indicated a move towards investing in Iran. The economic integration would result in fewer conflicts and more prosperity for the war-torn region. This engagement has the potential to overcome the economic disasters, political chaos and instability of the region resulting from the Arab Spring and Iran and Saudi Arabia's continued proxy wars.

What are the options for Israel?

The diplomatic and strategic openings that Israel has built in the last decade or so in the Arab world are in danger, and could be neutralised outright. Israel’s special envoy was recently denied entry into Saudi Arabia for attending a UN event, which indicates how bad this can get for Israel and how seriously Tel Aviv should take this regional development.

Israel has to do the following things to maintain its modicum of acceptance among Muslim countries. First, it should not be giving any negative remarks about the deal and should maintain neutrality, and even consider this a time to re-engage diplomatically with Iran. Second, it should focus on already established relations with Persian Gulf countries to save the work it has done in the past decade, instead of going all-out against Iran or Syria. Tel Aviv ought to note that Bashar al-Assad too has been in the UAE last week, indicating Syria’s improvement of relationships with Gulf countries. Thirdly, it should stop its settlement programs for time being, until the deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia. If Israel for now continues its mission to acquire more and more land in occupied Palestine, or beyond, it could be a solid case against it and be used by Iran. Last but not least, it is for Israel to create economic projects and opportunities for the Persian Gulf countries to compete for their favour. This would be taking a leaf out of the very book that China used in shifting US allies to becoming China's allies and partners. It was all possible because China projected economic growth and prosperity.

Nevertheless, the deal will have significant implications for Israel and will reshape the political scenario in the Middle Eastern region. The question which comes at the end of this is: who will replace Saudi Arabia in opposition to Iran now? Azerbaijan? Turkey? Time will tell.

The author studies International Relations at the National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad. His focus is on proxy wars, conflicts and aspirations for hegemony by international and regional powers in the Middle East region. Contact: