Creating new perspectives since 2009

Saudi-Iran deal raises Israeli worries and concerns

March 28, 2023 at 11:17 am

Iran’s top security official Ali Shamkhani (R), Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (C) and Musaid Al Aiban, the Saudi Arabia’s national security adviser, pose for a photo after Iran and Saudi Arabia agree to resume diplomatic ties after several days of deliberations in Beijing, China on 10 March 2023 [Chinese Foreign Ministry/Anadolu Agency]

The agreement to renew relations between Riyadh and Tehran was not just a matter that concerned the two countries, or which helped benefit the region; for Israel it was as important as an internal affair. Israeli political, partisan and media officials were all talking about the repercussions of such an agreement, which ends the isolation Tel Aviv tried to create around Iran; an isolation that Netanyahu announced he would try to maintain once he returned to the post of prime minister.

However, what happened a few days ago, through Chinese mediation, means that the alliance that Israel and the United States tried to create against Tehran is weakening.

Tel Aviv and Washington have been working to build a regional structure based on intelligence, security and economic cooperation with Gulf states, which culminated in the normalisation agreements. They, however, never reached the ultimate prize: Saudi agreeing to ties with Israel. This culminated in Riyadh’s refusal of entry visas for an Israeli delegation that was invited to a United Nations conference.

The Saudi-Iran deal also reminds Israel of China’s traditional support for the Palestinians, without Beijing being an enemy to Israel.

From the Israeli point of view, this agreement is a Chinese attempt to calm Iranian anger resulting from denouncing its nuclear policy. This means that Beijing is going for balance between the Arabs and Iran. They say that no one can dance at two weddings at the same time, but it seems that the Chinese are able to – and for quite some time – until the music stops at one of them, or both.

China’s main concern is the fight against America, which has turned into a cold war. Israel must realise that its image as a country in crisis will encourage China to increase its support for its enemies, because they are also America’s enemies, and Israel is likely to pay a price that exceeds the Chinese-American confrontation.

OPINION: The Megiddo explosion presents a new front for Israel

But Iran’s return from the fringes came when it provided Russia with drones to assist it in its war in Ukraine. This came after a Chinese-Iranian summit during which many cooperation agreements – some of which affect Israel’s technological security – were signed.

The recent agreement to end hostilities with Saudi makes Iran a continental geopolitical player, which reaches outside the borders of the Middle East and allows it to benefit from the technologies that China allegedly promised to provide it, such as access to its large spy satellites. This raises serious questions about Israel’s national security.

Instead of coming up with an appropriate response, Israeli parties are using the Saudi-Iranian deal as a new weapon to be used in exchanging blows between the two rival camps in the Knesset. This brings to mind US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s observation that “Israel has no foreign policy, only domestic politics.” This lack of foreign policy also shows through its failure to formulate a long-term organised policy, and inability to make critical decisions when it comes to serious issues such as the Iranian nuclear programme and the future of relations with the Palestinians. In some of these issues, Israel is approaching – or has already reached – the point of no return, which exacerbates its challenges, and may end with the sudden destruction of the state.

Israel is facing economic threats and can sense how its enemies feel as they see Tel Aviv harming its own interests, which were once its source of strength and protection. It is starting to pay a heavy price for its internal turmoil and things are expected to get worse if this division continues.

OPINION: The ICC’s selective approach to war crimes undermines its credibility

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.