In the forty six years since the Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the United States has dominated the diplomatic agenda in the Middle East. That era is ended. China and Russia have emerged as players at the diplomatic table and are challenging the United States’ status as the primary voice in trying to contain the war between Israel and Hamas.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is just completing another failed mission to the Middle East. He made the rounds, after meeting with Israel’s Netanyahu, going to Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. While the Egyptians received Blinken, the reception has been described as “cool.” Meaning? Egypt listened but made no commitment to do what Washington wants.
The trip to Saudi Arabia was a debacle. Blinken was supposed to meet with Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Salman Saturday night. Bin Salman stiffed Blinken, made him cool his heels overnight and then met with him Sunday morning. The U.S. State Department tried to paint this as a positive outcome:
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met today with Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh. The Secretary highlighted the United States’ unwavering focus on halting terrorist attacks by Hamas, securing the release of all hostages, and preventing the conflict from spreading. The two affirmed their shared commitment to protecting civilians and to advancing stability across the Middle East and beyond. They emphasized the importance of reaching a comprehensive political agreement to achieve peace, prosperity, and security in Yemen and the importance of our continuing partnership to end the conflict in Sudan.
But Bin Salman delivered an unmistakable message — the United States is not a priority and is not taken seriously. I wonder if Blinken was listening to any Lionel Ritchie music while he waited all night long for the delayed meeting? (Sorry for the video, but i felt the need to lighten the mood.)
The Saudis realize that the United States, while still capable of projecting some military force in the region, is weak and not to be trusted. Enter China and Russia. These two countries are providing a rally point for the Arab and Muslim world. India’s retired diplomat, M. K. BHADRAKUMAR, reports on China’s emergence as a diplomatic power challenging U.S. pretensions to leadership :
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.
Russia reportedly is in talks with Turkey about assembling a humanitarian resupply mission with the Russian Navy providing security for a maritime delivery at Gaza’s ports. As the images of Palestinian casualties flood social media, pressure for a humanitarian mission will grow. Which brings me to the U.S. Carrier Battle Groups being deployed to the Mediterranean Sea. If the U.S. and Israel try to block the Gazan ports, this raises the risk of a direct conflict between Russia and the United States. While I think that is unlikely, it is a scenario that must be seriously considered.
Putting two of the eleven U.S. aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean is a dangerous move by Joe Biden. As long as those two battle groups are not involved in any offensive actions against Palestinians in Gaza, their mission will be confined to providing Israel a symbolic security blanket. But if Biden orders them to take any kind of offensive action this will likely fuel a massive negative reaction in the Arab and Muslim world. You know it is serious when Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia and Turkey come together to support the Palestinian cause. This is unprecedented in the 76-year history of Israel and the United States no longer has the political or economic clout to coerce the Arab and Muslim nations to submit to Washington’s demands. That is what makes this so dangerous.