In China, Gaza, Iran, Israel, modernization, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, United Nations, USA

From Indian Punchline
October 16, 2023 By M.K. Bhadrakumar

Israel-Palestinian conflict, Saudi-Iran dialog, China’s position


China’s Special Envoy on Middle East Zhai Jun met the envoys of Arab states in Beijing at the latter’s request for a group meeting to discuss the grave situation in Gaza, Beijing, October 13, 2023

One hundred years after the Arab Revolt (1916-1918) against the ruling Ottoman Turks amidst the impending defeat of Germany and the Triple Alliance in World War I, another armed uprising by the Arabs has erupted — this time around, against Israeli occupation, in the backdrop of the looming defeat of the United States and the NATO in Ukraine War — presenting a thrilling spectacle of history repeating unabridged.

The Ottoman Empire disintegrated as a result of the Arab Revolt. Israel too will have to vacate its occupied territories and make space for a state of Palestine, which of course, will be a crushing defeat for the US and marks the end of its global dominance, reminiscent of the Battle of Cambrai in Northern France (1918) where Germans — surrounded, exhausted and with disintegrating morale amidst a deteriorating domestic situation — faced the certainty that the war had been lost, and surrendered.

The torrential flow of events through the past week is breathtaking, starting with a phone call made by Iran’s President Sayyid Ebrahim Raisi to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday to discuss a common strategy toward the situation following the devastating attack by the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, against Israel on October 7.

Earlier on Tuesday, in a powerful statement, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had emphasised that “From the military and intelligence aspects, this defeat (by Hamas) is irreparable. It is a devastating earthquake. It is unlikely that the (Israeli) usurping regime will be able to use the help of the West to repair the deep impacts that this incident has left on its ruling structures.” (See my blog Iran warns Israel against its apocalyptic war.)

A senior Iranian official told Reuters that Raisi’s call to the Crown Prince aimed to “support Palestine and prevent the spread of war in the region. The call was good and promising.” Having forged a broad understanding with Saudi Arabia, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian held discussion with his Emirati counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, during which he called upon Islamic and Arab countries to extend their support to the Palestinian people, emphasising the urgency of the situation.

On Thursday, Amir-Abdollahian embarked on a regional tour to Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Qatar through Saturday to coordinate with the various resistance groups. Notably, he met Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Doha. Amir-Abdollahian told the media that unless Israel stopped its barbaric air strikes on Gaza, an escalation by the Resistance is inevitable and Israel could suffer a “huge earthquake,” as Hezbollah is in a state of readiness to intervene.

Axios reported on Saturday citing two diplomatic sources that Tehran has delivered a strong message to Tel Aviv via the UN that it will have to intervene if the Israeli aggression on Gaza persists. Simply put, Tehran will not be deterred by the deployment of 2 US aircraft carriers and several warships and fighter jets off the shores of Israel. On Sunday, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan acknowledged that the US couldn’t rule out that Iran might intervene in the conflict.

In the meantime, while Iran was coordinating with the resistance groups on the military front, China and Saudi Arabia shifted gear on the diplomatic track. On Thursday, even as the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was heading for Arab capitals after talks in Tel Aviv, seeking help to get the hostages released by Hamas, China’s Special Envoy on the Middle East Zhai Jun contacted the Deputy Minister for Political Affairs of the Saudi foreign ministry Arabia Saud M. Al-Sati on the Palestine-Israel situation with focus on the Palestine issue and the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza, in particular. The contrast couldn’t be sharper.

On the same day, an extraordinary event took place in the Chinese foreign ministry when the Arab envoys in Beijing sought a group meeting with Special Envoy Zhai to underscore their collective stance that a “very severe” humanitarian crisis has emerged following Israel’s attack on Gaza and “the international community has the responsibility to take immediate actions to ease the tension, promote the resumption of talks for peace, and safeguard the Palestinian people’s lawful national rights.”

The Arab ambassadors thanked China “for upholding a just position on the Palestinian question … and expressed the hope that China will continue to play a positive and constructive role.” Zhai voiced full understanding that the “top priority is to keep calm and exercise restraint, protect civilians, and provide necessary conditions for relieving the humanitarian crisis.”

After this extraordinary meeting, the Chinese Foreign Ministry posted on its website at midnight a full-bodied statement by Member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Foreign Minister Wang Yi titled China Stands on the Side of Peace and Human Conscience on the Question of Palestine. This reportedly prompted a call by the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan to Wang Yi.

Interestingly, Blinken too called Wang Yi from Riyadh on October 14, where, according to the state department readout, he “reiterated U.S. support for Israel’s right to defend itself and called for an immediate cessation of Hamas’ attacks and the release of all hostages” and stressed the importance of “discouraging other parties (read Iran and Hezbollah) from entering the conflict.”

Succinctly put, in all these exchanges involving Saudi Arabia — especially, in Blinken’s meetings in Riyadh with Saudi FM and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, while the US focused on the hostage issue, the Saudi side instead turned the attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The state department readouts bring out the two sides’ divergent priorities.

Suffice to say, a coordinated Saudi-Iranian strategy backed by China is putting pressure on Israel to agree to a ceasefire and to de-escalate. The UN’s backing isolates Israel further.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s exit is to be expected but he won’t throw in the towel without a fight. US-Israel ties may come under strain. President Biden is caught in a bind, harking back to Jimmy Carter’s predicament over the Iran hostage crisis in 1980, which ended his bid for a second term as president. Biden is already backtracking.

Where do things go from here? Clearly, the longer the Israeli assault on Gaza continues, the international condemnation and demand to allow a humanitarian corridor will only intensify. Not only will countries like India which expressed “solidarity” with Israel lose face in the Global South, even Washington’s European allies will be hard-pressed. It remains to be seen whether an invasion of Gaza by Israel is anymore realistic at all.

Going forward, the Arab-Iran-China axis will raise the plight of Gaza in the UN Security Council unless Israel retracted. Russia has proposed a draft resolution and is insisting on a voting. If the US vetoes the resolution, the UN GA may step in to adopt it.

Meanwhile, the US project to resuscitate the Abraham Accords loses traction and the plot to undermine the China-brokered Saudi-Iranian rapprochement faces sudden death.

As regards the power dynamic in West Asia, these trends can only work to the advantage of Russia and China, especially if the BRICS were to take a lead role at some point to navigate a Middle East peace process that is no longer the monopoly of the US. This is payback time for Russia.

The era of petrodollar is ending — and along with that, the US’ global hegemony. The emergent trends, therefore, go a long way to strengthen multipolarity in the world order.

*****

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