In a speech in 2016, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei stated that the term ‘Middle East’ was a result of Western colonialism and that the term ‘West Asia’ should be used instead.
The decision of Iran and Saudi Arabia to normalize the relations is, from Khamenei’s perspective, a step that speeds up the Middle East’s becoming West Asia.
The impact of this historic decision, in the case it is really implemented, would be as great as the Russian special military operation in Ukraine to halt the US-NATO expansion.
The doors to be opened by the deal
Regarding the global and regional ramifications of the Chinese-mediated deal, we can draw the following main conclusions:
1. Assuming a mediator position, China is diplomatically filling the space left by the US in the region. (Note that China has similarly offered to mediate in the Russia-Ukraine war.) This indicates that China will now take an active approach in foreign policy. On the global stage, the Iran-Saudi deal is also vital for the future of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which relies on the stability of energy and trade routes.
2. The tendency of oil giant Saudi Arabia to distance itself from the US camp will undermine the US role in global energy and finance. It is possible that the US will engage in provocations, even up to a palace coup in Riyadh, to sabotage the deal.
3. Israel ranks the first among those concerned about the Iran-Saudi Arabia normalization. Cooperation among the countries of the region will constrain Israel’s activities in the region, and Israel is currently going through a civil war-like process. In the coming period it would not be surprising to witness the emergence and intensification of tendencies within Israel to distance itself from the US and to normalize the relations with the Arab countries with China’s mediation.
4. Normalization between Iran and Saudi Arabia will strengthen the prospects for ending the war in Yemen.
5. Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia have been in opposing camps and waged sort of a proxy war. Normalization and even cooperation between the two countries will contribute to regain the stability in Syria.
6. Iraq is another country that Tehran and Riyadh are at odds with. If the sides start negotiating on this issue, Iraq is also likely to benefit from this process.
7. The coming together of Iranian and Saudi clerics could also be an antidote to the region’s sectarian strife, a vulnerable feature of the region open to US/Israeli provocations.
8. It is possible that Palestinian groups resisting the Israeli occupation, but divided along the Iranian-Saudi axis, could come together after the deal. The Palestinian liberation struggle can thus get stronger.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s statement on Egypt following the deal should also be mentioned: ‘Egypt is an important country in the region and the region needs synergies between Iran and Egypt’.
Normalization between Iran and Egypt, two countries at variance with each other since the Iranian Islamic Revolution, would be a critical step for the prosperity of the region.
Egyptian sources I spoke with are welcoming the deal, but also rightly pointing out that it first needs to be ‘tested’ in practice.
Thinking Ankara, Cairo, Tehran and Riyadh together
In the article titled ‘Will Dream of West Asian Multilateral Cooperation Come True?’ that I wrote in October 2019 for the ‘Iranian Council for Defending the Truth’ think-tank, I summarized the framework that would bring Ankara, Cairo, Tehran and Riyadh together as follows:
‘Türkiye, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia make up of the main bulk of the West Asia. The political course these countries adopt in terms of foreign policy, or even the changes they go through in their domestic policies, largely affect the entire region.
(…) It is not possible to end the disputes between all these four countries, but an equation can be formulated with an approach that rather focuses on cooperation, and not on contrasts;
1. Respect for Territorial Integrity
The partitioning of Syria or any other country in the region would not be beneficial for all these four countries. An understanding between them, on an approach centered on keeping the territorial integrity of the countries in the region, rather than religious, ideological or ethnic clashes, would increase the overall stability in the region.
2. Mutual Respect for Internal Affairs
All four countries take actions by using different method, aiming not only interfere in the internal affairs of the other minor actors in the region, but also of each other. This attitude taken by these four countries, allow the non-regional actors a fair space of movement both within the region and also among these four countries.
The United States keeps Riyadh and Cairo close to itself, over the fear that Iran will threaten Riyadh leadership due to its Shiite-based presence in Saudi Arabia, or the fear that Türkiye might to use the Muslim Brotherhood to change the government in Egypt. Likewise, Saudi Arabia is trying to intervene in the internal affairs of both Türkiye and Iran by using different means, and especially the media.
On the other hand, Türkiye and Iran have not yet taken a common stance on the Kurdish issue, which concerns both the internal affairs of these and is also a regional problem, and these countries have caused harm in each other’s internal affairs at different time periods.
3. Mutual Dialogue in Foreign Policies
Instability in the region is quite important for these four countries, which all contain different religious and ethnic groups within them.
The side effects of the conflicts throughout Syria, Iraq or Yemen are greatly felt from Ankara, Tehran, Cairo or Riyadh. Despite this reality, these four countries are still refraining from reaching a common ground to discuss the existing problems.’
We are going through a phase where the West is weakening and in parallel becoming more aggressive. Trends towards multipolarity are on the rise.
A new equation where Türkiye, Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia could gather around a joint table would not only protect the region against Western aggression, but also pave the way for West Asia to take its place in the new world as an independent pole.