Saudi-Iranian normalization: what next?


Let's analyze its implications for the region and globally.

Undoubtedly, the signing in Beijing of the agreement on normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran is a pivotal event in the modern history of the Middle East. Its significance is quite comparable to the Camp David Accords of 1979 or the "Abraham Accords" of 2020. It will have multidimensional consequences both regionally and globally. Let us try to analyze them.

So, what's at the regional level?

This is an unconditional victory for Iran and the Arabs and a loss for Israel. Tehran has taken another, fundamentally important step toward completely breaking its international isolation and, in particular, has opened the way to a qualitative change in relations with the Arab world as a whole.

Israel, which is experiencing the deepest crisis in its history, has lost its strategic initiative and now has to act in response to external challenges. The room for maneuver is rapidly narrowing.

The Arabs, on the contrary, receive additional opportunities to maneuver and to play effectively with the three non-Arab poles in the region (Iran, Israel, Turkey).

In assessing the prospects for the development of the regional situation as a whole, we should first note that the Iranian-Saudi normalization makes more real the prospect of building two parallel bridges between the Gulf and Turkey, about which we have recently written: in the Arabian and Iranian directions.

This, on the other hand, creates the preconditions for the formation of an Arab-Turkish-Iranian (Islamic) triangle and, accordingly, the "marginalization" of Israel. In essence, we are talking about the possibility of the collapse of the plan to create a Sunni-Israeli anti-Iranian coalition (Israel, Arabs and Turkey), which is the basis of the "Abraham Accords." This assumption is confirmed by the unrest in the Jewish state that has been going on for over ten weeks and by the signs of a new deterioration in relations between Tel Aviv and Ankara because of the aggressive anti-Palestinian stances of the extreme right-wing members of Netanyahu's current government. We can also add to this the virtual collapse of plans for Riyadh to join the "Abraham Accords."

If the trend of the regional balance is indeed so, it gives the Arab pole additional room for maneuver. This could involve the creation of a "two-fold" Arab core (e.g., the KSA-UAE), the two parts of which would be able to lead two parallel parties: for example, Riyadh with Tehran, and Abu Dhabi with Tel Aviv. At the same time, the Saudis could focus on solving controversial Arab-Iranian problems, including Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. As for the Emiratis, their area of responsibility could be the maintenance and development of relations with Israel in order to form Arab security guarantees for Israel.

Indeed, the normalization of relations between the two shores of the Gulf would offer hope for ending the protracted conflict in Yemen, as well as the long and debilitating political crisis in Lebanon. However, resolving the Syrian and Iraqi problems would require close cooperation with Turkey, which would naturally strengthen the Islamic triangle and put Israel in an even more uncomfortable position.

Under these circumstances, the only regional "consolers" for the Israelis could be the Emirates, which have managed to establish a very extensive and effective network of ties and influence in the Middle East and beyond. They would be perfectly capable of spearheading a campaign to mobilize the Arabs in order to prevent the complete collapse of Israel (which could have catastrophic consequences for everyone). Following that logic, it is not unreasonable to suppose that, after a little while, the Emirates would offer Tel Aviv their own program of "normalization", which would be much more balanced from the standpoint of the interests of the Arab world, and, most importantly, would include a system of Israeli obligations to its Arab partners (which has never happened in the history of the Jewish state).

In other words, this idea can be formulated differently: the Arabs can assume the role of guarantor of Israel's security in the face of the Iranian threat in all its manifestations ( whether it is directly the military and nuclear capabilities of the IRI, or the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Palestinian "radicals" - Hamas and others, the IRGC forces in Syria and Iraq). Determining the nature and reliability of these guarantees is a matter for the future. But logic leads to the conclusion that the Arabs would like to be a deterrent for Iran in the interests of the whole region and Israel as well.

In exchange, Israel will have to make clear commitments that take into account the interests of the Arabs. Their content is also a matter for the future. But they must be based on a legally enforceable renunciation of preventive unilateral action (in the Israeli interpretation, an unconditional and unrestricted right to self-defense).

The result could be the emergence of a regional security architecture based on two axes: Arab-Iranian and Arab-Israeli. Ideally, this structure would be supplemented by an economic and infrastructural (transport) circuit, linked to Turkey, which could also be integrated into the regional stability formula as a balancer between Iran and Israel.

Thus, in the end, a system could be formed that organically includes the three non-Arab poles, the balance between which would be maintained from Arabia. The set of instruments for such governance should include: the mechanisms of the "Abraham Accords" with Israel (which are to be improved); the system of economic, infrastructure, as well as military-political relations with Turkey (which has already begun and which is to be completed); and the system of relations with Iran (which is to be created anew).