Thu, 16 March 2023
News broke last week that China had mediated a restoration of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Afterwards, analysts of the Middle East wondered what that means for the quiet relations that Israel and Saudi Arabia had been building recently thanks primarily to their joint opposition to Iran. Had Israeli domestic politics turned Saudi Arabia away? Did the American withdrawal from the Middle East over the last decade create a vacuum that China saw an opportunity to fill? How, if it all, did this relate to reports of recent liberalization in Saudi society, or the ongoing protests in Iran? Would this deal breathe new strength into the latter regime at the very moment that it has acquired new fighter jets from Russia and grows closer to breakout nuclear capacity?
Jonathan Schachter, one such observer of the Middle East, thinks that the Iran-Saudi deal is, in significant measure, a diplomatic signal directed at President Biden and the United States. In conversation here with host Jonathan Silver, he looks at that deal in light of a set of Saudi announcements that were released just one day before. Those announcements hint at what might induce Saudi Arabia to formalize its relations with Israel and even more deeply root itself in the American-led, Western alliance structure. He believes that the Saudis are sending America a question: do you, the United States, want to see us go in the direction of our Thursday announcement, or do you want us to go in the direction of our Friday one?
Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.