The Return of Diplomacy?
The Israel-Iran Conflict: A View from Riyadh

Aggressive Israeli policy, the desecration of Islamic holy sites in Palestine by Israeli fanatics, and the unlimited support provided by successive US administrations give individuals, organisations, and even states in the region a justification to engage in activities that threaten its security and peace, writes Saleh Muhammad Al-Khathlan, Professor of Political Science and Senior Advisor at the Gulf Research Center, Saudi Arabia.

The recent confrontation between Israel and Iran reaffirms the known fact that the policies of these two countries are a major cause of the instability that has plagued the Middle East for decades. The Israeli colonial occupation of Palestine and its genocidal crimes against the Palestinian people in Gaza, on the one hand, and Iran’s interventionist policies and the use of armed militias to expand its influence, on the other, have been a constant source of tension and conflicts. Washington’s total support of Israel has also contributed to the escalation of conflicts in the region.

Although the US administration succeeded this time in controlling the confrontation and preventing it from turning into a comprehensive regional war, the conditions in the region remain flammable; the risk of escalation still exists and a renewed military confrontation between the two regional powers cannot be ruled out.

Israel’s failure to achieve its goals six months into its fierce war in Gaza, the shift in international public opinion against it, and the political crisis it has created inside Israel prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to look for a way out: by bombing the Iranian consulate in Damascus and killing several Revolutionary Guard commanders in the hope of creating a confrontation that would ease the internal pressure he is under and divert attention, and possibly launch a war against Iran with the help of the United States to destroy its nuclear capabilities.

The Return of Diplomacy?
The Main Axes of Iran’s Foreign Policy Toward the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
Vali Kaleji
Iran’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been one of the most important aspects of Iran’s foreign policy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, a complex combination of ideology and pragmatism, Vali Kaleji writes.

Iran, for its part, could not allow the bombing of its consulate to go unanswered. Failure to respond would weaken its image at home and in the region, and make Israel more likely to launch attacks on Tehran’s allies in Lebanon and Syria. Iran has also made the defence of the Palestinian people a constant slogan in its regional policy and a means of mobilising public opinion in its favour in its regional and international confrontations, so it had to act and respond to the Israeli bombing. However, Tehran was keen to control and limit its response in order to avoid inflicting human or material loss, which could otherwise serve as a justification for Israel to escalate toward a full-scale war in which Iran would be the weaker party.

The Iranian response was designed to achieve three goals: Revenge for the bombing of the consulate facilities, showcasing the country’s military capabilities, and gaining more popular support in terms of Arab and Islamic public opinion. It seems to have succeeded in achieving the first and second of these goals, while public opinion was divided between celebrating the attack and downplaying its importance, because it did not cause any losses to Israel.

Although the actual impact of the attacks was limited, Tehran’s ability to launch hundreds of drones and missiles within a few hours had important implications for a change in the balance of power in the region. If Iran had surprised Israel rather than announcing its intention to attack and setting a date for the strike, the result would have undoubtedly been devastating, as it would have inflicted huge losses inside Israel and pushed Tel Aviv to react with a larger response, which would have entailed entering a full-scale war.

There is no doubt that Israel, which had to “control its response” due to US pressure and its preoccupation with the Gaza war, was surprised by Tehran’s boldness to launch a direct attack on its territory with hundreds of drones and missiles. Therefore, it seems that this attack will push the Israeli political and military leadership to seriously consider weakening Iran’s capabilities using all means, including sabotage operations, and targeting its affiliated militias in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. However, this will not be enough to reassure the Israeli people that they will not be subjected to a future Iranian attack.

We do not believe that Israel is satisfied with these limited measures; it will work hard to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, which would result in a huge strategic change in the balance of power in the Middle East.

Israel cannot accept the balance of deterrence revealed by the Iranian attacks, which means that the region is headed for more military confrontations in the coming days, which the concerned parties may not be able to control and limit their expansion.

Iran is aware that Israel will not accept the new reality created by the Saturday night attacks and will not be satisfied with its limited response, especially since targeting the nuclear facility in Isfahan is a message sent by Israel that it can destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities, so Tehran will seek to accelerate its enrichment programme to possess a nuclear weapon that will provide it with the only safe guarantee against any aggression that Israel may launch in cooperation with the United States. Recently, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that Iran is “weeks, not months” away from having enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb.

Saudi Arabia and the rest of the countries in the region were quick to warn against escalation and called for restraint. The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement expressing “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s deep concern about the developments of the military escalation in the region and the gravity of its repercussions.” The statement called on all parties to “exercise maximum restraint and spare the region and its peoples from the dangers of wars” and called on the “Security Council to assume its responsibility towards maintaining international peace and security, especially in this highly sensitive region for global peace and security, and to prevent the exacerbation of the crisis, which will have dire consequences if it expands.”

In this context, the Crown Prince received a call from the Iraqi Prime Minister, and the Saudi Foreign Minister also received calls from his Iranian and American counterparts and discussed with them the escalation, its seriousness, and the efforts made to contain its repercussions.

Saudi Arabia has always stressed that regional security and stability necessitate a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue that leads to the establishment of a Palestinian state with the pre-June 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, as stated in the Arab Peace Initiative, presented in 2002. Without such a solution, the region will remain threatened by confrontations, conflicts, and possibly a full-scale regional war.

Aggressive Israeli policy, the desecration of Islamic holy sites in Palestine by Israeli fanatics, and the unlimited support provided by successive US administrations give individuals, organisations, and even states (Iran) in the region a justification to engage in activities that threaten its security and peace.

It is puzzling why Washington insists on the normalisation of relations between the Kingdom and Israel when Israel is still engaging in aggression and genocide, having not met the requirements for normalisation. The Biden Administration’s insistence on discussing normalisation now reflects their desire to achieve a diplomatic victory that boosts the US president’s chance of being re-elected.

The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs reaffirmed the Saudi position in a statement issued in February in response to the US National Security Council spokesperson’s comment on ongoing discussions between the Kingdom and the United States regarding the Arab-Israeli peace process. The statement emphasised that “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s position has been and remains consistent towards the Palestinian cause and the need for the brotherly Palestinian people to obtain their legitimate rights. The Kingdom has also communicated its firm position to the US administration that there will be no diplomatic relations with Israel unless the independent Palestinian state is recognised on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip stops, and all Israeli occupation forces withdraw from the Gaza Strip.”

Gaza. Yemen. Epicentres of Pain. Feelings, Myths, and Memories in the Middle East
Vitaly Naumkin, Vasily Kuznetsov
Many developments that significantly impacted the destinies of the regional players, non-regional actors, and many people around the world have unfolded during the year that followed the publication of our paper titled “The Middle East and the Future of a Polycentric World” (February 2023).
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.