Journalist and international analyst Marta González Isidoro took to the microphones of "De cara al mundo" to analyse the repercussions of the agreement between Tehran and Riyadh in the Middle East

What does the agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia mean for the Middle East?

photo_camera PHOTO/LUO XIAGUANG/XINHUA via AP - Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed on Friday to re-establish diplomatic relations and reopen embassies after seven years of tensions

In the latest edition of "De cara al mundo", on Onda Madrid, we had the participation of Marta González Isidoro, journalist and international analyst, who analysed the current situation in the Middle East, especially in Israel, after Saudi Arabia and Iran resumed diplomatic relations. 

Was the recovery of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran expected? 

It has been a surprise because of the speed with which it has happened, but there had been signs for several months, specifically in the summer of last year. In addition, there were rapprochements during the World Cup in Qatar and during November, when Crown Prince bin Salman made statements in which he spoke of easing relations with Iran and lowering tensions, especially with Yemen. Also, to prevent Iran from continually sending a military arsenal against Saudi Arabia and to focus, above all, on the protection of the Oran crossings, oil and goods traffic. 


Does Israel have anything to fear from this agreement? 

Yes and no, it depends on how China handles the situation. What China's mediation highlights is that the bipolar system does not work in the Middle East, that multi-polar relations in the Middle East are open and that China is an actor that wants to have not only an economic and strategic relationship in the Middle East, but also a political one. It aspires to be a relevant actor on the international stage.

All this work of mediation and rapprochement that China has been doing for some years has been catapulted in some way by the war in Ukraine, by the bipolarity of the world and how it has become divided: some in favour of the West and others against sanctions against Russia. This has boosted the China-Iran-Russia axis in the Middle East. 

Perhaps in this case, Gulf countries can have their sympathies with other powers because they are not independent. We give the example that Saudi Arabia can make this agreement with Iran, but at the same time buy 78 Boeing planes from the Americans. 

Of course it is not independent. In fact, the Gulf countries, regardless of their relations with Israel, are very clear that they want to diversify their relations at the global level and that they can be allies of the United States on very specific issues, but also with Russia, Iran and even China.  

China, moreover, is an actor with important economic and geo-economic projects in the region. In the case of Iran, it is not an important market in terms of supplying oil to China, it is not the main supplier, but China is the main exporter of oil to Iran, and this is important at a time when the rise or fall of OPEC prices is at stake.  

In the case of Saudi Arabia, it was made very clear that the US exit from the region could be used as an opportunity for other actors to engage in mutually beneficial diplomatic relations with them. Saudi Arabia is the main supplier of oil and gas to China, but the Gulf country has also discovered the world's largest lithium mine. Riyadh also has the entire Vision 2050 project, the city of NEOM, and so on.  

The United States is paying for this decision to look more to the Pacific and don't forget that Joe Biden said that Prince bin Salman was going to be a pariah in relation to the murder of the journalist Khashoggi. I think right now the crown prince is responding and acting according to his own judgement and self-interest and with very little regard for Washington. 

That is the question. The policy of the United States and the Anglo-Saxon world in the Middle East has been characterised by the imposition of a vision and values that we liberal democracies share, but which are not shared in the rest of the world, and even less so in the Middle East, where identities and religion play a fundamental role in establishing not only agreements between nations, but also in structuring society itself. 

So the United States' political, strategic and commercial relations with Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf have been based on the premise of human rights and the establishment of liberal democracy, which is not shared there. And along comes China, which does not care how you manage your country politically as long as you maintain stability. 

Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are not going to be ironed out because they are two competitions, two competing powers in the region over religious, geopolitical and economic issues. But I think the importance of this agreement is that it can help ease tensions in Yemen and Syria, for example, where there is a major confrontation and where we have seen in recent days that Russia and even Turkey can play an important role in mediation, displacing the United States from the talks for the first time.  

There is a draft peace plan in the region, led by China, which is taking small steps, but which aims to ease tensions in Gaza and the West Bank in the context of Israel and the Iranian nuclear programme. 


Is it compatible that Saudi Arabia can have relations with Iran and at the same time join the Abraham Accords? 

Yes, it is compatible if there is a de-escalation of tensions, especially in the West Bank. The lack of leadership by President Mahmoud Abbas is causing tensions that could lead to an intifada, because there are new actors such as Iran through Hezbollah in the West Bank. 

I think China can play a mediating role between Iran and Saudi Arabia over Gaza and the West Bank for one reason: because there is a purely economic issue. China has important agreements with Israel, but there is a fundamental issue, and that is that there is an oil pipeline that runs from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea to Gaza. That pipeline is Israeli-owned because Israel built it during the Shah's time, when the two countries had good relations, and closed it at the time of the 79 Revolution.  

Now there is a major project between an Israeli and a Chinese company that is trying to reopen that pipeline and attract investment from Iran. These are big words, but it is possible if there is a de-escalation in the tension over the Palestinian conflict, which does not mean that it will be resolved. Here the role of Saudi Arabia and Iran is important because they are two mediators, two actors who can talk directly with the Palestinian leaders. 

A few days ago we learned that Iran has transferred drones to a Polisario Front instructed by Hezbollah in the use of these drones. There, Iran is trying to play a role hand in hand with Russia and Algeria in North Africa, which poses a threat, a very important destabilisation. Can Saudi Arabia or China come into this question? 

Iran's presence of Hezbollah throughout the Sahara was one of the reasons why Morocco broke off diplomatic relations with Iran and why it asked for US mediation to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. It is also in Israel's interest not only because of the Jewish population of Moroccan origin - more than half a million - and the ties it has with Morocco, but also because of the whole area of stability in the north. The issue of recognition of the Sahara was a pragmatic issue that stems precisely from the pressure Iran is beginning to face in that area. I don't think China has a hand in this, nor does it have any interest. 

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