Saudi Arabia and Iran’s Peace Accords that Changed the Status Quo

Iran and Saudi Peace Accords

On the 10th of March Saudi Arabia and Iran have decided to restore diplomatic ties which would end their long-term rivalry and elevate their liaison into a different parallel. This long term and complex relationship over the years have put geopolitical and regional risk on international politics. Both countries have suffered from a security dilemma in their pursuit of the leadership in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia being a Sunni Muslim country and Iran a Shia Muslim country has helped them fuel proxy wars. The regionalization of their rivalry has put the region in a deep risk and turmoil that has put countries such as Yemen in a deep crisis. Nevertheless, today’s decision has transformed this regional risk into an internationalized risk. The newly established partnership has put the United States into risk as new players arrive to the region, leaving Washington incompetent of conducting diplomatic ties. China’s momentum in the region has put a lot of pressure on United States interests, which leaves their future in question.

Background of the International Risks and Rivalry

The Iranian regime and the Saudi Arabian Kingdom have been in conflict for decades. Their relationship has been a focal point for many International Risk experts. Iran and Saudi Arabia are both leaders of two different Muslim sects and have struggled for the control over the number one leader in the region. The struggle has been longstanding in the Islamic religion as both sects have been in feud ever since the death of the prophet Mohammad over the rightful heir after his passing. The historic struggle has reflected upon the two countries and carry it with them. Their religious-ideological claims as natural Islamic leaders has made their adversary route more tense. The region has downplayed to these sectarian roles and was clear reflected in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. Nevertheless, the Saudi Iranian hegemony became very apparent after the Cold War when the Bipolar status quo of the United States and the USSR has ended. This led to a destabilization in the world order and helped fuel the securitization of both Iran and Saudi Arabia. As for the breaking point, it was subsequently after the Arab Spring in 2011. Iran had concluded that Saudi Arabia was its biggest security threat rather than the United States. Iran’s main security issue was the United States, as it declined any western influence and presence in the region. Saudi Arabia’s alliance with the United States has clearly posed a deep security threat to Iran.

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The United States of America and International Risks

This milestone happening in the region transforms alliances and partnerships and constructs a new status quo and world order that no one expected. Saudi Arabia and Iran’s peace deal has put the United States’ position in great jeopardy as it lost its control and its influence in the Middle East. For several years, Washington and Riyadh have been strongly tied together but today with Biden’s administration this tie has been fading away. The United States being on the sideline of this ordeal is apparent as it wouldn’t have properly brokered this deal due to the lack of neutrality. Tehran and Washington’s relationship has been tense over the years and has worsened after the imposed sanctions on Iran during Trump’s administration. The feud between Iran and Saudi Arabia had produced international risk and shaped the United States’ international security strategies. Washington was not reliable in terms of solving this conflict and the diplomatic brokering that the United States used to conduct has lost its influence as an international phenomenon. The United States has lost one of its primary oil partners in the region which puts Israel and United States’ interests at risk.

China’s New Position and Pursuit of Opportunities

The only leverage that can handle to control the fulfillment of the agreement from both parties is Chinese diplomacy. The new Chinese influence on Saudi Arabia can be a sign and a direct threat that the United States should consider. But, on the other hand, others might see this differently and they see this deal will bring peace and stability to the region that can restrain Iran’s nuclear powers. Nevertheless, China would also like to see Iran’s nuclear capabilities tamed and checked as it is not in anyone’s interest of having Iran with such powers. The nuclear power that Iran holds not only is a regional risk but also an international risk. China and Saudi Arabia understand the implications that might erupt if further agreements will take place to discuss security issues. The regional conflicts are deeply embedded between the  two countries  as they have conducted several proxy wars, prominently in Yemen and Syria. If Chinese influence could resolve such geopolitical issues, Yemen would see massive investments and trade on its peninsula and China would be one of the benefiters of this flourishment. 

The Risks for Proxy Yemen

Aside from the religious struggle, part of the Saudi Iranian rivalry was over Yemen’s harbor in Aden and the Arabian Peninsula and the struggle of regional control. The regional risk that both Saudi Arabia and Iran were struggling over is, control over the region and to benefit economically. Yemen was the focal point of Iranian and Saudi control as it was easy to influence proxy wars from a religious perspective. Saudi Arabia and Iran have fought their battles using their religious influences and divided the country between Shi’a and Sunnis. As Behnam mentioned in The International Risk Podcast that the Houthis in Yemen serve as a clear Iranian proxy. The Houthis that have been directed towards Iranian interests as Shi’a minorities are fighting the Saudi backed up government. Yemen has been the hub for proxy wars for a while, as previously it has been a proxy warzone for Saudi Arabia and Egypt . The two countries were also struggling over regional power in the 60s before Iran had the large influence it has today. In both cases Yemen was used as a proxy to combat their rivalry.

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Opportunities for Yemen after the Agreement

But now, after this peace deal the future of Yemen seems unclear. As Behnam mentioned in the International Risk Podcast, he sees Yemen’s future dark and believes there is no positive outcome for Yemen. On that note, the power vacuum that will occur if Saudi Arabia and Iran decide to step back from Yemen, would create the optimal space for other countries to use. Russia and the United States would use the power vacuum in Yemen for their own proxy war field. Behnam is correct when he speaks of a negative future for Yemen. But in the meantime, since there is no rivalry there shouldn’t be any internal struggle. Yemen’s current conflict is constructed and orchestrated by Iranians and Saudis to fight of their regional hegemony. Therefore, a peace agreement for Yemen can be further brokered by China that could be conducted in the near future. Nevertheless, if the United States and Russia decide to use Yemen as their own proxy field, this is another discussion that can be made. But in the meantime, Yemen’s future seems on the brighter side. 

Geopolitics, International Risks, and Predictions

Most scholars predicted that this Saudi Iranian rivalry would have a long run. But with the war in Ukraine and the United States’ weakening positions worldwide, this peace deal was to be expected. The prince Mohammed Bin Salman has made a smart move to conduct this deal and sign a truce with Iran to resolve the conflict and fill the gap Washington created after it left the region. Additionally, it is also a calculated move that was assisted by China who has growing interests in the Middle East. This calculated de-escalation deal would build mutual trust and establish a stable regional environment with no escalated risk and more economic advantages. But since states are led by people who are human, they are inclined towards hostile behaviours. Therefore, both Riyadh and Tehran are open to risk that might trigger a change in the objectives that they were aiming for. But, on the other hand, humans are naturally inclined to self-interest and therefore might avoid any obstacles that can limit their interests. Hence, this agreement is motivated by mutual interests and risks that serve both parties. The most important objective that Saudi Arabia might seek is economic stability and increase investments in Iran. Nevertheless, Behnam as he mentioned in The International Risk Podcast this calculated move is politically driven and Saudi Arabia sees that there is no zero-sum game but more of an equilibrium between the two states. If Saudi Arabia keeps engaging in proxy wars and continues rivalry with Iran this would damage their Vision 2030 economic plans, since any war costs huge amounts of money. As for Iran, the Shiites in the region are still a minority and this would risk Iran’s position. Nevertheless, Iran is semi excluded due to the imposed sanctions and Tehran wants to see economic growth. If the two continue this pace of agreement, the region would see an ultra-level of money flow, regional stability and cooperation. 

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