“A drop of oil is worth a drop of blood of our soldiers”, said the French Statesman Georges Clémenceau. This signifies the importance of oil in the contemporary world which in turn accentuates the importance of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), a country with second-largest proven oil reserves.
Saudi Arabia has been under fire
However, for the first time since the oil boom in the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia has been under fire by the congress in Washington D.C. for Saad al-Jabri case, by the foreign office in Islamabad over the Kashmir issue, by European Union (EU) in Brussels over Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, and by Tehran over proxy wars in neighboring states.
Not only all this, but a proposed deal between China and Iran, has left the kingdom between a devil and a deep blue sea.
The Arabian kingdom is facing many challenges
Some of them are concerning the proposed China-Iran deal which could push Saudi Arabia definitively to one of the two new blocs emerging – one headed by the USA and the other by China. The second issue being Khashoggi’s murder investigations which could directly implicate Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS). Third, USA elections which could oust the kingdom’s Republican friend Donald Trump.
These issues, coupled with the wars in Yemen, Syria, and Libya which can further deteriorate KSA’s military and moral standing; and the UAE-Israel Agreement which can put KSA in a tight spot over its relations with other Muslim nations.
After America’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and infliction of crippling economic sanctions on Iran, Iran was in desperate need of financial and economic assistance, a help which is now being offered by China.
China and Iran deal
The anticipated deal between China and Iran is said to have at least 100 investment projects, worth $400 billion, in different sectors like airports, railways, subways, and free trade zones. This deal has shown the nonchalance and insouciance of China towards America’s forewarnings of economic and military sanctions to any country assisting Iran.
This much-needed assistance can open up new oil markets for Iran whose crude oil production has gone from 3.8 million barrels per day (BPD) at the start of 2018 to 2.1 million BPD in October 2019. In addition to that, this deal has presaged certain realities to Saudi Arabia and it’s North American and western allies, i.e. Chinese dragon is out of its den and is not fearful of any warnings or threats which bars China from pursuing its national interest. Moreover, Iran can resurge and bounce back economically, militarily, and politically after the influx of Chinese investment, much to the vexation of Saudis.
A strong Iran poses yet another paradox to the Saudi Kingdom of whether to counter Iran, seek similar partnerships from its allies, or to continue the ambitious Saudi Vision 2030 of economic restructuring on its own.
A bipolar world with USA and China
For Saudi Arabia, this bipolar world with USA and China being two powers is not going to bode well; for the reason that Saudis may well have to make decisions based on political and strategic considerations of its allies, primarily the USA, rather than economic considerations of its own. A country like KSA will never prefer this because it may close, or at least hamstring, big consumer markets of its oil.
The same had to be tepidly done by India when it stopped the oil imports from Iran and halted funding to different projects like Chahbahar port and Chahbahar-Zahedan railway line on the behest of its ally USA, due to which the latter was embraced by China and away from India’ grasp. Similarly, KSA might have to let go of some of its interests in countries that are either sympathetic or close to China on the injunction of the USA.
Does this mean that all the members of this bloc like India, Israel, Japan, and Australia will be natural friends of the kingdom?
Is Israel going to be the next reluctant choice of Saudi Arabia?
UAE-Israel agreement and Saudis’ interest in Israeli companies’ investment in NEOM city project vindicate and signal such developments. The impending danger, however, is the upcoming elections in America and Saudis would bet anything to get pro-MBS, pro-business, and anti-Iran Donald Trump
reelected to White House than Joe Biden, the democrat averse to Middle-East conflict and one of the architects of JCPOA, entering the Oval office.
Saudi dilemma does not end here. If the deal between China and Iran is finalized, it can push Pakistan, not only an important country for KSA for its economic, strategic, military, and religious partnership, perhaps the only remaining non-Arab Muslim friend of the kingdom, further into China’s arms and away from Saudi Arabia.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia relationship
However, it is not the economic factor that makes Pakistan essential to KSA, but it’s the former’s military and religious backing that makes it indispensable for the kingdom. There is, however, another variable added to this equation of alliance and that is Iran’s ambitions to acquire nuclear warheads. If Iran succeeds in acquiring nuclear technology, it leaves the Saudi monarchy with no other option but to acquire nuclear technology of its own, a fact explicitly stated by MBS.
There are three options for the kingdom to achieve this goal: First, it can directly acquire nuclear technology and make its weapon; second, it can ask the USA for a nuclear umbrella in case of a military conflict with Iran; third, it can seek Pakistan’s help in either acquiring nuclear weapons of its own or a nuclear cover to be provided by Pakistan.
However, this deal and Saudi Arabia’s quiescent stance on Kashmir can take Pakistan away from Saudi Arabia’s list of allies which, in turn, can dampen Saudi hopes of becoming a nuclear power in case Iran achieves this goal earlier.
Moreover, the China-Iran deal can distance Iran from India and bring it closer to Pakistan. This puts Saudis in an awkward position of choosing between a Muslim friend and a natural member of its alliance bloc but an arch-enemy of Pakistan: India. The enigma of Saudis continues.
Potential friends and allies
Not less important, this deal will open new doors for Saudi Arabia in the shape of new friends and allies. But Is Saudi Arabia ready to pay the price for this new emerging alliance? The kingdom has already estranged many of its erstwhile friends like Qatar and Turkey. Is it ready to lose more friends at the expense of new allies?
Unless Saudi Arabia does not play its cards right the grip will keep tightening on the kingdom and push it into the corner. Saudis should be more progressive, flexible, and open about their foreign policy.
Henry Kissinger said that there are no permanent friends or foes in International relations; therefore, Saudis can, too, think out of the box and strive for rapprochement with its immediate neighbors like Qatar and Yemen and Muslim friends like Pakistan and Turkey. It may extricate the kingdoms of its enigmas.
The views expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.