EDITORIAL: It is becoming clear with every passing week that the Iran-Saudi rapprochement was very well, and very deeply, thought through.
It ended a diplomatic confrontation lasting years, signaled an end to a proxy war spanning decades, prompted an about turn on the Syrian war and welcomed Damascus back into the Arab League, and dared a number of countries to defy US sanctions and even trade oil outside the dollar – all because of China’s blessings, of course.
Now it turns out that there was also a plan for Gulf countries to form a regional naval alliance “to ensure their collective maritime security”.
The initiative, announced by Iran, claims to bring together Saudi Arabia, the UAE (United Arab Emirates), Qatar, Bahrain and Iraq. Later it is also designed to bring India and Pakistan on board to stretch the arc all the way to the northern tip of the Indian Ocean.
If this plan is executed, which now seems very likely – especially since this, too, is apparently being pushed by China – it will seriously dent US presence and activities in the western Asian region.
So far, Beijing has gone so far as to say that “upholding the peace and stability of the Gulf region in the Middle East bears on the wellbeing of countries and people in the region and is of vital importance to safeguarding world peace, boosting global economic growth and keeping energy supply stable”. Since this came directly from the Chinese foreign ministry, it says a lot.
There are also enough indications to suggest that this idea had been cooking for some time. Iran’s Press TV announced that, among other things, this move was also designed to counter American and Israeli proposals, floated last year, of establishing a ‘Middle East Nato’ that they would control.
Also, it said a lot when, on May 31, the UAE shocked Washington by withdrawing from its Combined Maritime Force, claiming that the decision was based on “an ongoing evaluation of effective security cooperation with all partners”.
There’s no doubt that these developments have caught Washington off guard, which let itself be distracted by the Ukraine war just when it had gone out of its way to try and cut China down to size. That miscalculation not only prompted a natural alliance between Moscow and Beijing, it also led to quick yet successful diplomacy that is now slowly becoming visible.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia just last week, where he pressed for normalisation with Israel and sidelining Iran as usual, exposed how far behind the curve the American administration is when it comes to latest developments in the Arab world.
Now it will worry, and rightly so, that the proposed maritime alliance will have a severe negative impact on its presence in the region. It is, after all, the route through which one-sixth of the global oil trade takes place.
Already, China’s gambits are routing a fair amount of the international oil trade away from the dollar, undermining its status as the global reserve currency for the long term. Now its efforts are also set to push it physically out of Arabian and Asian waters.
These are turning out to be times when the world is rapidly changing, especially shedding overarching American influence that has kept the region divided into blocs for decades, causing unnecessary confrontations, wars, and loss of life.
Islamabad is also examining the proposal very closely, which is very welcome, especially since India is also most likely going to be on board. Working together as part of a bigger alliance would do both countries a world of good; perhaps also give them a chance to open dialogue on pressing matters. For now, though, we must appreciate that so many countries are coming together for the sake of the wider region, and it will be to our benefit to partner with them.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023