The Iranian-Saudi agreement reveals the weakness of the Western influence in the Middle East
The announcement of the restoration of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with Chinese mediation, revealed the limits of the West influence in the Middle East.
In Europe, and while the EU was careful avoid explicitly crediting China, which it referred to as its systemic rival, for this détente, Brussels declared its willingness to build on it by engaging with all actors in the Middle East in a gradual and comprehensive approach with full transparency.
Although the European Union was preoccupied with the war in Ukraine, its waning influence in the Middle East predated the war.
This was due at least in part to his failure to spread the influence he once enjoyed in that region.
In the Middle East, China is now performing the role traditionally reserved for the Europeans, by talking to all sides and backing them up with economic power.
The European Union, unlike the United States, had diplomatic relations with all players in the region, including Iran, and after the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the European Union and Iran agreed on an ambitious roadmap for developing bilateral relations.
Later, the EU failed to protect the JCPOA and bring all the Arab Gulf states into it in a truly balanced way.
Also, E3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) created a special trading instrument INSTEX designed to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran.
However, this initiative soon hit a solid wall, as European financial institutions were reluctant to engage in trade with Iran, lest it run counter to extraterritorial US sanctions.
In fact, a total of one operation was carried out via the disbanded INSTEX just last month to add to the crises, the European innovators of INSTEX blamed Iran for its failure.
The failure of E3 to fully comply with its role in protecting the JCPOA led to the collapse of any nascent leverage it had built with Tehran nor has the European Union been more successful in its desire to play a stabilizing role in the Gulf.
In the wake of the US assassination of Quds Force commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Qassem Soleimani, in January 2020, the European Union committed itself to diplomatic initiatives to reduce tensions in the region, but it never pursued a convincing strategy to achieve this goal.
As for Saudi Arabia, the agreement won’t change the fact that it sees itself as an ambitious sovereign power unconstrained by the West and keen to diversify its relations.
There is no doubt that the normalization of relations with Iran is a good example of this.
As important as the deal was, the fact that the West’s nominal regional partner agreed to hand over this diplomatic achievement to the West’s peer rival is telling.
The bold move by China in mediating Saudi-Iranian normalization, which was no doubt aided by regional players, notably Iraq and Oman, illustrates the significant shifts towards more multipolarity and intra-regional agency in the Middle East.
However, China’s rise was facilitated by the decline in the European Union’s ability to influence events in the region.
The European Union can do now is to try to benefit from any development that leads to greater security and stability in the region.
And China’s increase in influence in the Middle East is tangible evidence that Beijing is ready to take advantage of its influence in foreign conflicts.
China has approached the oil-rich Middle East, after it appeared first in the world as the largest importer of energy resources, however it seems to be on the verge of greater role, which is beyond than importing hydrocarbon resources.