The China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia has shuffled the deck in the Middle East, cutting the US out of the pot.
Over the weekend, in a surprising development to most Middle East watchers, China brokered a deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore some bilateral ties between the Islamic powers after seven years without them. The agreement was a very basic one, with the two countries agreeing in principle to exchange ambassadors within two months, reactivating a security cooperation agreement, and restoring some economic and cultural exchanges. This is the first formal rapprochement between the Islamic Republic and the Kingdom since 2016, when the Saudis executed a prominent Shia cleric, sparking violent protests at its embassy in Tehran and precipitating the break in relations. Since that split, the underlying conflict between the two states on either side of the Persian Gulf has rapidly escalated, with Iran taking the aggressive lead. Its proxies in Yemen, the Houthis, have attacked Riyadh directly, while Iran itself has launched cruise missiles at Saudi energy infrastructure, crippling a major refinery for weeks back in 2019.
Given this recent history, the fact that any kind of deal was struck shows that key changes are occurring in Middle Eastern politics. The agreement, basic as it was, did not force Iran to cease its aid of international terrorists or non-state proxies, even those which target the Kingdom; this was a conciliatory move on behalf of the Saudis towards the Iranians. This step towards normalization of relations without addressing some of the proverbial elephants in the room – the malign regional activities of Iran, the Shia-Sunni dispute, relations with Israel – fits well within the Chinese diplomatic playbook, as does the language of the agreement. In the text, both Iran and Saudi Arabia agree to the principles of “respect for the sovereignty of states and noninterference in their internal affairs,” a classic Chinese formulation that Beijing uses to ignore human rights abuses abroad and gloss over its own at home. There are a wide variety of implications and impacts from this diplomatic coup for China, both in the Middle East region and further afield.
Lying with statistics is a common practice; when it comes to Israel, lying with maps is just as common.
The map presented above was published by Al Jazeera this week and purports to show that “From 1947 to 1950, during the Nakba or ‘catastrophe’, Zionist military forces expelled at least 750,000 Palestinians and captured 78% of historic Palestine.” The map is not new, and is consistently used by anti-Israel publications, media outlets, and pundits to “explain” how the Palestinians have been historically oppressed by the foundation and continued existence of the state of Israel. The big problem? Almost none of what the graphic depicts is true, a good deal of it is deliberately misleading, and it leaves out crucial context that undermines the point it is trying to make. Here’s an object lesson in not taking everything you see online at face value.
As you may have read, Iran held its “election” for president last Friday; it was won by a notorious human rights abuser who detests the United States and Israel and is currently under American sanctions – Ebrahim Raisi. I put “election” in quotes for the simple reason that Iranian elections are no elections at all. They are as rigged as they come, from the government-approved candidate list, to the deliberate suppression of all opposition groups, to the likelihood of a falsified vote count. You may have issues with American elections – whether they are voter suppression or voter fraud – but it is clear that what passes for an “election” in Iran is nothing of the sort; it is merely a rubber-stamping exercise meant to ratify the choice of the theocratic fascist regime of Ayatollah Khamenei.
The Biden administration’s approach to the threat of Iran seems more like capitulation than it does negotiation.
Recent reports from reputable outlets like the New York Times have suggested that the Biden administration seeks to restart negotiations with the Iranian regime as to their burgeoning nuclear weapons program. This is not surprising for anyone who has been paying attention to this issue; Biden campaigned on re-entering several diplomatic agreements negotiated by the Obama administration, including the Iran Nuclear Deal known as the JCPOA. The problem with this approach arises not from the idea of diplomacy generally, but from the specifics of the current situation with Iran. Suffice it to say, a lot has changed since Biden last worked in the White House in January 2017.
As those of you who have either read my posts before or know me personally may know, I’m not a big fan of the current American presidential administration. However, I’m someone who truly dislikes when people cannot seem to acknowledge when even those politicians they despise or disagree with consistently do something right. Today, and over the past week or so, the Trump administration has done something quite good, and has done it far better than the Obama administration had in a very similar situation. What, you may ask, has the Trump administration done so well?Read More »