Rubik's cube of regional order in the Persian Gulf

The Abraham Accords in ۲۰۲۰ was considered a new trend in the developments of West Asia and especially in the Persian Gulf region, in the new shaping of regional security arrangements and regional order. Still, gradually, the domino of normalizing relations with the Zionist regime was faced with the opposition of other Arab countries and a lack of acceptance among the public opinion of the Arab countries of the region. However, whispers have been heard to extend Abraham Accords to other countries, including Saudi Arabia.
1 August 2023
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Hamid Najafnia

The Abraham Accords in 2020 was considered a new trend in the developments of West Asia and especially in the Persian Gulf region, in the new shaping of regional security arrangements and regional order. Still, gradually, the domino of normalizing relations with the Zionist regime was faced with the opposition of other Arab countries and a lack of acceptance among the public opinion of the Arab countries of the region. However, whispers have been heard to extend Abraham Accords to other countries, including Saudi Arabia.

According to these reports, Saudi Arabia and America are reaching the possibility of a mutual security agreement, which includes normalizing Saudi Arabia's relations with the Zionist regime, conditional on the possibility of a solution between the two countries regarding the Palestinian crisis. This is even though several months have not yet passed since the joint statement of China and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council countries, the agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia with the mediation of China, and the recent joint statement of Russia and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

The basic question is whether the security arrangements of the Persian Gulf region have changed and a new order is being formed or if the past trend is continuing. Which of the sometimes contradictory regional developments, such as de-escalation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, China's approach to the Persian Gulf countries, or the possible mutual security agreement between Saudi Arabia and the United States and the normalization of relations with the Zionist regime, are examples of the new regional transitioning order?

In response, it should be said that changes and transformations at the international system level lead to superficial and deep dynamics and transformations at the regional level. In such a way that due to the current fluid conditions of the international system caused by the constant change in the components of power and actors, it is not far-fetched to expect a change in equations and even conflicting regional security arrangements, and these dynamics will continue until the formation of an established order.

The order and security arrangements of the Persian Gulf region are like a Rubik's cube, where changes in every part of it lead to changes in other dimensions and its algorithm. Changing the attitude of extra-regional actors and intra-regional dynamics can put new conditions in front of regional security patterns at any moment. Therefore, to portray the existing regional order in the Persian Gulf and its dynamics, the conditions of extra-regional actors and the intra-regional dynamics should be examined coherently.

 

America and the regional order of the Persian Gulf

America's strategic logic regarding the Persian Gulf has shifted from the axis of vital interests and using all tools to maintain its position to the logic of the pivot towards Asia and offshore balancing since the Obama era. This strategy has continued continuously and followed domestic, regional, and international developments with some tactical changes.

Offshore balancing means a power's use of regional powers to prevent the rise of hostile powers and preserve interests. Based on this, if the hegemonic power does not exist in the Persian Gulf region, there is no need to deploy American forces, and buck-passing is given to regional actors because America thinks it has the necessary time to deal with the threat. The United States uses this strategy in the Persian Gulf for purposes such as securing energy transfer, ensuring the desired regional security, and countering Iran's influence.

The offshore balancing strategy has continued with some changes during the Biden era. In other words, the change in the pattern of the United States' military presence in the Persian Gulf and the increase in the role of America's regional allies have led America's favorable conditions towards a single-pillar order and regional coalition formation against Iran to create a favorable balance. Of course, the activism of other extra-regional actors, including China, or intra-regional developments in the Persian Gulf region will change how offshore balancing is applied.

 

Intra-regional trends of the Persian Gulf

The previous trends of cooperation and security in the Persian Gulf region in recent years were affected by several assumptions, which generally activists based on these assumptions set their foreign policy at both regional and international levels; these assumptions are:

  1. Political-security arrangements in the Persian Gulf based on the balance of power can maintain security and stability in the region. Such a system controls the region's tension, mistrust, crisis, and war.
  2. Friendship of one actor with another actor implies enmity with another actor. For example, the closeness of Iran to Saudi Arabia necessarily causes the exclusion of the Zionist regime and other small actors in the region.
  3. The balancing force in the region is provided through the presence and participation of extra-regional power. Sometimes this balance is formed by buck passing to regional actors.

The changes in the international and regional systems have caused almost all previous assumptions to face challenges and fundamental question marks. In this situation, incidents and events different from the previous propositions are happening, which shows that the situation is changing, and a kind of reorganization of the security arrangements of the Persian Gulf region is observed.

In other words, based on the assumptions of the past, it is irrational for the United States to pursue a compromise between the Zionist regime and Saudi Arabia in the current conditions of the region because it is currently a period of de-escalation between the Arab countries and this regime. The possibility of a military conflict and the formation of an Arab bloc against the Hebrews is very unlikely similar to what happened in the past. Also, Iran and Saudi Arabia have started the de-escalation process, and any approach of Saudi Arabia to the Zionist regime can be faced with Iran's reaction.

On the other hand, the relations between Biden and Netanyahu and between the Israeli regime and the United States are not currently in a process where Biden wants to pay an exorbitant price. The Biden government is not very satisfied with the settlement process, the position of the Zionist regime towards the war in Ukraine, and the domestic developments of this regime, including the judicial bill.

Also, Saudi Arabia is not a former ally in cooperation with America. Increasing cooperation with China, applying the policy of security diversification and de-escalation with Iran, and the lack of full support for American policies towards regional developments did not indicate the possibility of a mutual security agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

This is while the dynamics of the international and regional system make possible the formation of even conflicting trends to bring order to the Rubik's cube of the Persian Gulf region. In the current situation, despite the differences between the Zionists and Saudi Arabia and the competition with China, the United States is seeking to readjust the offshore balancing strategy and put a new sectoral balance on the agenda. Despite its de-escalation with Iran and strategic partnerships with China, Saudi Arabia can even declare normalization with various security balances.

Therefore, it must be said that new assumptions have been formed in the transitioning regional system resulting from the developments of the international system, which have changed the meaning and nature of concepts such as security, benefits, and balance. The new assumptions include the priority of efficiency and economic development over legitimacy, depoliticization of regional integration, diversification in economic approaches, diversification in strategic partnership, and moving towards a security balance instead of a balance of power with the participation of all activists. However, these trends are not fixed and are still changing and reorganizing due to other components.

Hamid Najafnia, an expert at the Institute for Political and International Studies

(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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