Iran-Saudi Agreement Holds Genuine Potential of a Durable Peace and Security in the Gulf and wider West Asia

by Dr Khushnam P N - 17 March, 2023, 12:00 839 Views 0 Comment

The recent Trilateral Agreement (the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the People’s Republic of China) for the resumption of diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia holds profound potential for peace and security in the Gulf and wider West Asia. Geography is inseparably an integral factor of security, security framework, and the potential to build and develop a sustainable security structure for lasting peace. In such a region as the Gulf, security is integrated and interdependent both in nature and in implications. The security of any one country is intertwined with the security of the others in the region. Thus threat perceptions in the region are an interdependent variable. Security threats and destabilising content travel faster in such a region affecting all in one way or other. An analysis of the security pursuits so far and their outcomes will make it apparent how there is a chance of lasting security in the region with this agreement.

All Security framework and model since the Iranian Revolution, of 1979, is based on the clear exclusion of Iran. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was born out of the shared external threats of these Arab Gulf Sheikdoms under the leadership of Saudi Arabia in the immediate context of the Iran-Iraq war and its impending spillover in these states. In the wake of intensifying escalation of the war, a standing coalition force, The Peninsula Shield Force (PSF) was created to defend themselves and deter the threats from across their borders, together. The PSF has not been a match to the enormity of the security threats and cycle of crisis and conflicts in the region. The major crippling factor was the exclusion of the two major states in the region-Iran and Iraq. The GCC+2 (Iraq and Egypt) could not materialise given the obvious reason of the disjointed geography of the construct and the exclusion of Iran, the major sprawling country in the region.

US-based Security security architecture based on a projection of Central Command (CENTCOM) and Fifth Fleet with a network of strategic partnerships with the GCC states and defense cooperation suffers from the fact that it is conceptualized against Iran which is spread over the entire eastern flank of the Gulf. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) had dovetailed, in a way, Iran and could have brought it into the security network for the shared benefits of the entire region. But US withdrawal from the JCPOA and the policy of ‘Maximum Pressure’ and subsequent skirmishes on ships, tankers and shipping lanes pushed the region to the brink of larger conflagration.

The current US vision of an American order with the Abraham Accords based on the Arab-Israel alliance against the threats from Iran and its proxies is not in line with the idea of regional and sub-regional security. The shifting of Israel from European Command (EUCOM) to CENTCOM is part of the same strategy. These steps are significant in their own right but a sustainable security vision and strategy must be inclusive and region-wide without untenable exclusion of any.

An overview of the Gulf makes it obvious that without Iran no security strategy will be durable and sustainable as Iran sits over the entire eastern flank of the Gulf. Besides, Iran opens to the Indian Ocean, and the Gulf of Oman and peeps strategically into the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

With the Iranian Revolution, the US had lost its most strategic pillar (Iran under the shah, as part US ‘Two Pillar policy along with Saudi Arabia) for the US-led security and stability of the region. Since then Iran has been viewed as a challenge to the US-led security in the region. But the security imperative and strategic prudence merit accommodation of Iran and its security interests. The recent Iran-Saudi rivalry and hostility are the manifestation of this broader US-led security model along with Saudi Arabia (GCC) and Israel against Iran. Iran’s proxies are part of the Iranian Security strategy to counter this US-led Security model against it in the post-Cold War Unipolar World.

The Iran-Saudi Arabia Agreement has suddenly changed the geopolitical equation and geo-strategic perspective of threat perceptions and therefore security vision in the region. The agreement between the two largest power in the two opposite flanks of the Gulf has obvious huge security potential for the region.

It’s clearly mentioning of respect for sovereignty, non-interference in each other affairs and security cooperation based on the agreement of 2001 between the two countries which will have a certain bearing on the geopolitical restructuring and shaping of security in the region. It is notable that the Agreement was reached after five days of deliberations between the Security heads of the two countries, Ali Shamkhami, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and Musaad bin Mohammed al-Aiban, Saudi Arabia’s National Security Adviser and therefore surely holds paramount security vision and strategy which would unfold gradually. Its clear and strong security perspective is apparent in the statement of Ali Shamkhami that the intensive negotiations will finally be able to resolve the problems between Tehran and Riyadh. The two along with Wang Yi, Director, the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission, the Chinese Communist Party, “expressed their keenness to exert all efforts towards enhancing regional and international peace and security.” Thus the security dimension forms the central concern of the agreement and the outcome seems to be plausible. The joint approach of Iran and Saudi Arabia can bring probable calming of the conflicts and crisis in Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon and also stabilizing the impact in Iraq and other parts of wider West Asia.

With Agreement reached as a Trilateral between Iran and Saudi along with China, the geopolitical import of the latter is obvious. This warrants the US to reach some pragmatic accommodation with Iran through JCPOA negotiations and remain part of this new geopolitical shift and potentially evolving security syndrome. It is understandable that in the evolving geopolitical realignment and its impact, the Israeli vision of expansion of the Abraham Accord with the inclusion of Saudi Arabia is difficult and unsustainable with spiralling cycle of violence in the West Bank. It requires a pragmatic re-evaluation of its policy (Periphery Doctrine) because it is not about the Arab periphery or non-Arab periphery in the evolving geopolitical trajectory. The mere pursuit of the Arab (Periphery) alliance is no more a tenable course. Rational and inclusive consideration of the security imperatives are needed for lasting and sustainable regional security. In the shifting geopolitical scenario, a prudent overhauling of its geopolitical imperative is the need of the hour for a bold reset of its Periphery Doctrine to mould the evolving pattern towards lasting peace and security in the region.

In brief, regional security needs an inclusive and comprehensive framework with all stakeholders. If Abraham Accord is possible, Iran-Saudi Agreement has been made, and the necessities of a growing multipolar world and security imperatives of the region can bring new incentives for accommodations of interests. A realistic resumption of JCPOA with Iran with requisite accommodations of Israeli concerns can bring both US and Israel as a facilitating parties in the making of durable peace and security in the Gulf and wider West Asia. The increasing multipolar world needs a multilateral security approach and arrangement that includes and considers the stakes and interests of everyone concerned. The agreement holds the potential for durable peace in the region.

Dr Khushnam P N
Author is an independent IR and Regional Security Researcher & Analyst Sepecialization: Iran, US and Gulf Security, Bengaluru, India

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