What is the most important thing here? Is it that two such irreconcilable adversaries as Iran and Saudi Arabia announced on Friday 10 March that they would restore diplomatic relations within two months? Or is it that they did this from Beijing and thanks to China’s mediation?
It is too early to tell, as the consequences of this twist are yet to be seen, but five things are already clear.
The first is that China has achieved what no other power could have done. Russia could not have even attempted to do this because its failure in Ukraine has discredited it and it is far too closely linked, above all, to Iran for Saudi Arabia to have considered Russia an honest broker. The United States, on the other hand, remains too close to Riyadh and is far too critical of the mullahs’ regime for Tehran to have even thought of entrusting it with a role as intermediary with the Saudi monarchy. As for the European Union, it is not yet perceived as a political union to be able to act as a player on the international scene and none of its states, not even France, can claim to be a player on its own.
China, the world’s second economic power and a permanent member of the Security Council, was able to do so all the better because it is on good terms with all the countries of the Middle East, and in particular with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel. It dreamed of asserting itself as a key figure on the international political scene. It succeeded in doing so on a particularly difficult terrain and this success makes it a great power in its own right, political and not just economic.
It remains to be seen whether it could now carry on this success in Ukraine. It would be much more difficult but not necessarily out of the question and the second observation is that, in the “friendship without limits” that they both claim to have, China carries a completely different weight than Russia. Losing influence on all its borders and very isolated on the international scene, since Friday it has been clear to see what Russia has become by invading Ukraine: a declining and poor power whose weight won by Beijing only makes it a second-rate player, including in the Middle East where it had nevertheless regained a foothold by saving the day for Bashar al-Assad.
The third observation is that there are no longer any “blocs” at the beginning of this century. If a country that has been so much under American protection for as long as Saudi Arabia can afford to make common cause with China, this means that each country can now play its part to the best of its interests and as it sees fit.
Here too, a new era has opened up, an era of international anarchy, and the fourth observation is that the compromise it has just made with Riyadh means that the Iranian regime now needs to concentrate its forces against the contestation it has been facing for the past six months.
It is an admission of weakness that the theocracy has made and the fifth observation is that this agreement with Saudi Arabia will undoubtedly allow the regime to escape any threat of its nuclear installations being bombed by Israel. There was an Arab-Israeli front against the Persian and Shiite Iran and Saudi Arabia turned its back on it on Friday, preferring peace to a regional showdown. In this game, the big loser is Benjamin Netanyahu.