US officials skeptical of China’s deal but concerned about deterring Iran
China dealt the Biden administration a terrifying diplomatic upset by reestablishing ties between enemies Saudi Arabia and Iran late last week.
It was an unmistakable sign that the Chinese Communist Party’s first ever demonstration of diplomatic intervention outside East Asia had reached the heart of the Middle East — a region long dominated by the United States –.
In one smart move, Beijing appears to have embraced the peacemaker’s yearning for talks, achieving in three months what could seemingly be the development of a new chapter in regional relations – undermining the newly US-led strategic architecture that is supposed to achieve. the same goal of stability.
Publicly, Biden administration officials brushed off the news, saying they were all in support of the initiative and that it serves Washington’s interests anyway. The second part is certainly true, as far as regional peace is concerned.
The US military is stretched more thinly in the Middle East than it has been in decades, and any major attack by Islamic terrorist groups or Iran and its proxies – such as the one that struck Saudi Arabia in 2019 – could change the timeline of the The Pentagon is completely doomed to regroup its global forces for future competition with China, CENTCOM’s top commander warned Senate lawmakers Thursday.
But US officials worry that the Saudi-Iran deal will raise Beijing’s status in the region at Washington’s expense – which it will, as long as Iran keeps its end of the deal.
That’s big two, and American officials are skeptical. Iran has agreed to stop arming the Houthis, but its arms shipments to the rebels have continued rapidly in recent months.
Tehran now has the largest array of armed drones and ballistic missiles in the Middle East, making its military “exponentially more capable than it was just five years ago,” the head of US Army CENTCOM said , Gen. Erik Kurilla.
“Iran is without its malign activities,” Kurilla testified to lawmakers on Thursday.
So why would Tehran surrender its leverage now? For one, the intermediary in China has significant economic control over the Islamic Republic, and a rapprochement could further rupture the already seeping isolation that Washington has built up around Iran in recent years.
What the deal means for US-led efforts to persuade Arab states to build ties with Israel remains unclear, and likely depends on which lens one sees it through: military, diplomatic or economic.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that “American and Israeli weakness” prompted Riyadh to turn to other channels, and he’s not entirely wrong about that.
The Trump administration trashed the 2015 nuclear deal and imposed a campaign of maximum pressure on Iran, but the US military failed to repel all of Tehran’s retaliatory attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Whether a surge in Beijing’s diplomatic influence will lead to further Chinese arms sales in the region is also likely to depend on Iran’s behavior. China has played down Gulf tensions on both sides, and the latest agreement is unlikely to diminish the GCC states’ interest in improving their air defenses, regardless of who is selling.
But allowing the United States to use bases in the Gulf for a future strike alongside Israel against Iran’s nuclear sites could be another matter, should talks between Tehran and Riyadh progress.
Ultimately, the market may not be going anywhere, as Jesse Marks argues in Foreign Policy.
Despite the latest naval exercise between Iran, Russia and China in the Gulf of Oman this week, it is too early to talk about anything like a Eurasian axis aligned against the interests of the United States.
But if a multipolar order emerges in the coming years, this week’s news reminds us that it may not start in the Indo-Pacific.
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