Saudi Arabia Has Traded its Geopolitical Clout for Economic Realism While Turkey and Iran Now Lead the Middle East

While Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s statements which de-facto recognise “Israel” have not come as a surprise, they continue to be widely misinterpreted across the political spectrum. Saudi Arabia’s position which favours the medium-term official recognition of “Israel” in order to match is long standing unofficial position will not effect the cause of Palestinian justice, except insofar as it while thrust the issue away from the Arabian peninsula and into the hands of the two major non-Arab powers of the Middle East – Turkey and Iran.

Muhammad bin Salman concedes defeat in the Muslim world

Far from becoming “Israel’s” spokesman in the Arab world, Muhamamd bin Salman is essentially washing his hands of the issue by adopting the standard line regarding a two-state solution that continues to be the preferred way of solving the long standing injustice against Palestine in the wider non-Muslim world. In this sense, while Saudi Arabia remains the geographical location of the Holy Mosques at Mecca and Medina, the Saudi regime has effectively become agnostic on the most burning issue in the wider Arab and Muslim world – that of Palestine.

This does not necessarily represent a love of Zionism and a hatred of Palestine on the part of the Saudi regime, but instead it represents a calculated decision to exculpate the Saudi regime from any ideological, religious or ethical questions that normally fall to regional leaders in times of conflict. Muhammad bin Salman is less interested in winning hearts and minds in the Muslim world than he is interested in winning profitable contracts from business partners in both the western world and in Eurasia and East Asia.

Unlike some of his more aged predecessors and former advisers, the young Muhammad bin Salman knows that eventually, his country like all energy exporters, will be forced by circumstance to begin selling in the Chinese Petroyuan rater than the US Petrodollar. Far from fretting this medium-term inevitability, Muhammad bin Salman is keen on increasing already good economic relations with both China and China’s closest partner Russia. Muhammad bin Salman is well aware that in order to attain investment for his ambitious Vision 2030 which looks to diversify the Saudi economy from a petro-economy into something more sustainable in the long term, he will need East Asian and Eurasian investment in order to make it happen as the US and EU partners of Riyadh are all too comfortable with the status quo of Saudi Arabia being little more than their ‘oil station’.

At the same time, Muhammad bin Salman wants to attract more private sector investors from North America and Europe and in order to achieve this, he is shedding some of the more reactionary elements of Saudi society that western governments have never minded, but that an individual businessman having to live in Saudi Arabia even for a few months might have considered prohibitive to leading a comfortable life during temporary stays in the Wahhabi kingdom. At the same time, under Muhammad bin Salman’s de-facto leadership, Riyadh wants to implement a balancing strategy that is able to lure China and Russia as investors without geopolitically alienating the United States which could easily organise a ‘palace coup’ against Muhammad bin Salman if they thought he was becoming too multipolar in terms of his geo-economic partnerships.

In order to achieve this, Muhammad bin Salman has signed up to the Zionist cause in the Levant knowing full well that among both US politicians and wider US public opinion, this is a useful trump card against would-be ‘regime change’. Should the US become more publicly ill at ease over Riyadh’s burgeoning relations with both China and Russia, Muhammad bin Salman could turn to Washington and say “are you really willing to risk overthrowing an overtly pro-“Israel” leader at the risk of paving the way for a pro-Palestinian one”?

In this sense, Muhammad bin Salman’s embrace of “Israel” is as much for his short term regional economic gain as it is an insurance policy against would-be US led regime change in Riyadh. Is this an ethical policy? Of course not, but it is one that follows an easily understood mercenary logic.

Turkey and Iran compensate for Arab lethargy 

Just as Saudi Arabia has traded political influence in the Middle East for economic opportunities in other regions, Turkey and Iran have more than stepped up to fill the gap of what was always poor Saudi “leadership” on the issue of Palestine. It is becoming increasingly clear that in spite of some lingering differences, the increasingly strong economic and security partnership between neighbouring Turkey and Iran has led to a kind of gentleman’s agreement between Tehran and Ankara wherein Tehran is willing to concede Turkish leadership on Palestine among the wider Sunni community, while Turkey abandons the anti-Shi’a/anti-Iranian rhetoric that has made cooperation on Palestine between even secular Sunni majority Arab states like Egypt and Iran all but impossible.

Ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran has been totally consistent in favouring the classical position of total Palestinian liberation. While Turkey was the first Muslim majority state to form diplomatic relations with “Israel”, under President Erdogan, Turkey has become the unquestionable soft-power leader on the cause of Palestine among the wider Sunni community, with the exception of Egypt where Erdogan remains persona-non-grata.

While on the one hand it is odd to the point of being pathetic that the most important issue of Arab liberation in the modern era is now being most vocally promoted by two large non-Arab states, on the other hand, it represents an internationalisation of the issue that could have wide ranging implications.

Formulating an international/multipolar peace process

Iran’s geopolitical influence remain strong in Iraq, Syria and parts of Lebanon while Iran’s geopolitical and geoeconomic interests are also rapidly expanding towards Russia, the Caucasus,  South Asia and China via One Belt–One Road, while Turkey although still technically a member of NATO, has embraced partnerships in the greater Eurasian space, is becoming more involved in Africa and is deeply enthusiastic about One Belt–One Road. This is a positive development for Palestine in so far as Palestine’s leaders have vocally dismissed any future peace accord being brokered by the US and instead are seeking the mediation of a wide range of international partners.

This means that in helping to internationalise the issue of Palestine, while Iran and Turkey have taken the matter further from the Arab world, they are also taking it further from the US axis whose influence runs from Europe to “Israel” to Saudi Arabia. While Donald Trump’s geopolitically inexperienced son-in-law and open Zionist Jared Kushner is privately working on a Palestine peace plan that Trump arrogantly calls “the deal of the century”, such a plan is already dead on arrival as Palestine is looking beyond the US and its allies for an honest broker and even if the US were to convince Palestine to even consider such a plan, it is certainly not going to be in Palestine’s interests to sign such an inevitably lopsided “deal”.

Turkey and Iran have both helped to make this reality known, as whether Palestinian leaders admit it or not, both non-Arab states have helped to internationalise the issue in a manner that is ultimately positive for Palestine’s own need to develop a more effective soft-power strategy.

Conclusion

Admittedly, these new developments will not bring any immediate change to the bloodshed transpiring at this very moment in Gaza, but in the long term it reveals that while Saudi Arabia surrenders its negative influence, other more positive Internationale partners of Palestine are now able to take centre stage without any significant opposition in the wider Muslim world.

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