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Israel, Iran, and China: US-Middle East Relations

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Trans-Pacific View | Diplomacy

Israel, Iran, and China: US-Middle East Relations

Insights from Mordechai Chaziza.

Israel, Iran, and China: US-Middle East Relations
Credit: Pixabay

Trans-Pacific View author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into U.S. Asia policy.  This conversation with Dr. Mordechai Chaziz – senior lecturer in political science at Ashkelon Academic College, specializing in Chinese foreign and strategic relations, and author of “China’s Middle East Diplomacy: The Belt and Road Strategic Partnership” (2020)  – is the 262nd in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.”

Analyze the geopolitical implications of the Abraham Accords on Israel, Iran, and China vis-à-vis U.S. leadership in the Middle East and Gulf region. 

The Abraham Accords strengthen the covert partnership that has been built in recent years between Israel and the Gulf states, with encouragement from the U.S. administration, against the Iranian nuclear program. The Abraham Accords allow for an alliance between Israel and the Gulf states to become visible. The agreements also allow the Gulf states (for example, the United Arab Emirates) to purchase advanced American weapons that they could not purchase in the past, and also allow Israel to sell weapons to the Gulf states. For Iran, this is a worrying development as the distance between it and Israel has shrunk, and Israeli forces can operate in front of it or near its border freely.

For the U.S., the Abraham Accords contribute to the idea of forming a local coalition that will maintain the regional balance of power and curb Iran, which will help it turn its attention to the strategic rival, China. However, the new coalition could also act against the Biden administration’s desire to return to the nuclear deal.

Should the Biden administration build on the Abraham Accords?

As I mentioned, it depends on which path the Biden administration chooses to address the Iranian nuclear crisis. If Biden chooses a confrontation path, he will find a strong coalition that will support and cooperate with him. But if he chooses to return to the old agreement (JCPOA) without considering the interests of local actors (as the Obama administration did), he will encounter local anger and rage that he did not know before.

The local coalition has various ways to sabotage or strike back at the agreement, from exerting pressure on the other powers to attacking the Iranian nuclear facilities. Some local actors will strengthen their economic and political relations with Russia and China at the expense of their relations with the U.S. Biden will find that much has changed in the Middle East and the world since he was in office. This could lead to a significant rift between the U.S. and the Middle East countries, including Israel. Israel and the Gulf states have also insisted that they be involved with discussions on the revival of the JCPOA.

What are the geopolitical ramifications of the Biden administration’s decision to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Abraham Accords?

There will be no dramatic change in the U.S.’s approach to Iran on the nuclear question. Two scenarios to consider:

1. A return to the nuclear agreement (JCPOA) without changes and necessary adjustments could lead Israel and the Gulf states to act together against the agreement, against the United States and Iran. The actions can be economic, diplomatic, and military. Israeli armed forces commander Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said the nuclear agreement was “bad and must not be allowed,” and Israel had operational plans to take “decisive action.”

2. A U.S. decision to return to a nuclear deal with Iran at the expense of its allies’ interests in the region could lead to the disintegration of the coalition formed as a result of the Abraham Accords.

Between the two extreme scenarios, there is a reasonable possibility that the U.S. will return to the nuclear deal, the allies will express uncoordinated protest, and relations between the parties will continue but cool down.

Explain how the U.S., EU, and other Western governments should understand Beijing’s use of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for China’s Middle East diplomacy. 

Beijing uses the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to promote its commercial, energy, transportation, 5G, and building infrastructure projects. Chinese companies are slowly taking over the region at the expense of veteran Western companies that have operated in the region for years. China is the largest foreign investor in the unstable and conflict-ridden Middle East region. Strategically, the BRI is how China is seeking to collapse Western-American dominance in the region peacefully. The connection between the BRI and the strategic partnerships it creates in the region, especially with the American allies alongside a rival, allows it to gradually take over the region without creating tensions with the U.S. or the West. In other words, the BRI is a sophisticated Chinese plan to transfer hegemony from the West and the U.S. to China without war or conflict.

Regarding U.S.-China rivalry in the Middle East, identify the top three geopolitical risks that require U.S. leadership from the Biden presidency.

The U.S.-China relationship grew increasingly strained under President Trump, who adopted a hardline approach to China. Thus, U.S.-China relations are at a historic low point in the past half-century, and are unlikely to fundamentally improve under President Biden’s administration. The top three geopolitical risks that require U.S. leadership from the Biden administration are:

1. Iran’s regional influence: the Iranian nuclear program, the capabilities of Iran’s precision missiles and drones, and the Shiite axis backing of Shia militia in such diverse locales as Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria.

2. Strategic relations with Turkey and Egypt vis-à-vis the Muslim Brotherhood.

3. Chinese presence in the region, especially in technology, high-tech, and 5G technology (this includes Israel-China relations).