AS`AD AbuKHALIL: Saudi-Iran Deal a Possible US ‘Suez Moment’

The U.S. does not want to experience what Britain experienced in Suez in 1956: a watershed moment signaling an end to empire and global decline.

Smoke rises from oil tanks beside the Suez Canal hit during the initial Anglo-French assault on Port Said, Nov. 5, 1956. (Fleet Air Arm, Imperial War Museums, Wikimedia Commons)

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

The announcement in China on Friday of the resumption of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran (after a 7-year freeze) caused a stir in Washington with U.S. mainstream media underlining the rise of China’s diplomatic role in the region at the expense of the U.S.

The U.S. has consistently aborted diplomatic initiatives of its allies and adversaries alike. China, on the other hand, emphasized that the cornerstone of its policies in the region is peace and diplomatic relations, in clear contrast to U.S. and Western roles in launching wars and instigating conflict.

Iran has been calling for the normalization of relations with Saudi Arabia for a few years, but Saudi Arabia snubbed all those initiatives. The Saudi government has been trying to win a brutal war in Yemen, which basically, and paradoxically, brought Iran closer to the Saudi border by virtue of Houthi reliance on Iranian assistance in the face of Saudi savagery.

The Iraqi government (through its Shiite component) has been mediating between Saudi Arabia and Iran for a few years. The Shiite political groupings in Iraq are fully aware that a rapprochement between the two countries would reflect favorably on the relations between Sunni and Shiite political grouping in the country.

Those discussions in Iraq were held at a low-level and did not amount to much (in fact, it is said that Qassem Suleimani when he was assassinated was on his way to participate in behind-the-scenes negotiations with Saudi Arabia through intermediaries).

The U.S. and Israel don’t look kindly on the news of the diplomatic breakthrough. They first fear that China is increasingly assertive in its role in the region, and the U.S. does not want to experience what Britain experienced in Suez in 1956: a watershed moment signaling its global decline. The U.S. stood up to Britain, France and Israel who combined to attack Egypt after its leader Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. The event is seen as the final act of the British Empire before joining the more powerful U.S. imperium. 

If China is eager to play a larger diplomatic role in the region it is because there is reception, nay eagerness, in the region for an expansive Chinese political role. China does not have a negative image in the Middle East or in developing countries in general. It is the U.S. and NATO that are seen as aggressive and intrusive.

The Ukraine-Russian war reminded the U.S. government that it has not won the hearts and minds of developing countries: compare that to the popularity of the U.S.S.R. among developing countries during the Cold War, particularly due to active Soviet support for anti-colonial and independence movements around the world. 

Saudi Calculations

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, MbS, at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C, in 2018. (DoD, Kathryn E. Holm)

Saudi Arabia has its own calculations as well. The news of the resumption of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia coincided with news (in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal) that the Saudi government has been negotiating with the U.S. over the terms of its normalization with Israel.

The Saudis wants to extract a big price from Washington: the two newspapers mentioned a Saudi demand for the establishment of a nuclear reactor in Saudi Arabia and its ambition is to obtain advanced U.S. weapons without conditions or restrictions. But both papers omitted the most important term of the agreement between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia over normalization with Israel: Riyadh wants to obtain official and unwavering support for the coronation of Muhammad bin Salman as the next King of Saudi Arabia.

When the UAE signed a peace treaty with Israel, it quickly elevated the relationship between the two countries into a strategic alliance. But the UAE, which did not object to the Saudi-Western war against the Syrian regime, aimed at improving relations with Damascus to avoid being subjected to media attacks for its flagrant betrayal of the Palestinian people.

To be sure, the Syrian regime does not own a media empire analogous to the ones possessed by the UAE and the Saudis, but attacks on the UAE from an Arab government source would have caused unwanted embarrassment. Sure enough, the Syrian regime and its supporters avoided attacking the UAE for its relations with Israel as a favor for the UAE’s reconciliation with Syrian leader Bashar Al-Asad.

Similarly, as the Saudi monarchy prepares for establishing relations with Israel, it can’t afford to have Iran and its media subject the Saudi ruler to attacks from an Islamic religious perspective. The Saudi government takes seriously its credential as a leading Muslim country, and it can’t afford for Iran to present itself, yet again, as the only true Muslim defender of Palestinians and the Aqsa Mosque in particular.

Muslim worshipers approaching Al-Aqsa Mosque, 2014. (Moataz1997, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Saudi Media Campaigns

Iran had been wanting the rapprochement much more than the Saudis. Teheran has been subjected to massive campaigns of vilification from a sectarian, anti-Shiite perspective and from a racist, anti-Persian perspective. Saudi media and entertainment empires have devoted their resources to mobilize Arab and Muslim opinion against Iran and its sphere of influence in the region.

Not coincidentally, the propaganda agenda of the Saudi regime conformed with the propaganda of Israel. Furthermore, aware of the influential role that Saudi media play in the propaganda war on Iran, there has always been an Arabic speaking faction within the ruling Iranian military-security establishment that called for improving relations with Saudi Arabia (Arabic-speaking Ali Shamakhani, secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, represented this trend and he was the man selected to seal the deal with the Saudi representative in Beijing).

Furthermore, the protests that swept Iran over the past several months revealed, more than ever, the role that Saudi Arabia plays within the exile Iranian opposition. Not only does the Saudi government promote the Shah’s son in its media, and not only does it reportedly fund and support the cultish group People Mujahedin Iran, but it also runs a network of media outlets directed against Iran and its interests.

Iranian International (the powerful London-based, Iranian opposition television station) was a leading voice and source for developments inside Iran during the protests. (Western media never mention that it is a Saudi regime station). Reports, allegations, and fabrications by Iran International made their way into most mainstream Western media.

Iranian government propaganda outlets complained regularly about the role of Iran International. And just as Saudi Arabia in the past reconciled with the Qatari regime due to the influence of the Aljazeera network, the Iranian government is increasingly uneasy about the role of Saudi-run media, especially those that are Persian-speaking (Saudi Arabia has Persian language pages for most of its media).

Saudis Have Alternatives

The U.S. has known about the Saudi-Iranian talks and it is highly unlikely that Saudi Arabia wishes to replace the U.S. patron with China. If anything, the Saudi government wants more not less American intervention in the region and it has looked with disfavor at U.S. withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Instead, the Saudi government wants to stress that it has alternatives to its exclusive dependence on the U.S. It should be remembered that during the Cold War years, clients of the U.S. in the Middle East often threatened to strike alliances with the Soviet Union. None actually did so.

The agreement for the resumption of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia is just that, an agreement which governed the reopening of embassies in both countries. It signals a thaw in the relationship but not a full-fledged honeymoon.

None of the thorny issues between the two countries were sufficiently discussed and no substantive agreements were reached (the agreement calls for discussing those issues in the coming months). That could happen but it is unlikely to lead to results because both sides are so heavily invested in their regional posture and allies. They both associate those regional policies (and wars, in the case of Saudi Arabia) as essential for regime prestige and political legitimacy.

There is little common ground possible between the two countries: not in Yemen, or Lebanon or Palestine or in the Gulf. Saudi Arabia seeks accommodation with Israel while Iran supports resistance against Israel; Saudi Arabia wants a client regime in Yemen, while Iran supports the Houthi regime; Saudi Arabia wants to smash the power of Hizbullah while Iran regards Hizbullah as an element of primacy in the Iranian regional alliance.

Both sides may be approaching the agreement for different reasons: Iran seeks to lower the tempo of Saudi media vis-à-vis Iran, and a reduction of Saudi financing of Iranian opposition and dissident groups, while Saudi Arabia is sending a message to the U.S. at a time when the Biden administration has become more hawkish on Iran than Trump.

If the agreement does accomplish the goal of truly bringing peace and amity between the two rivals, China may then enjoy a Suez moment:  when the world signals the end of the American Empire like what happened to the British.

As`ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Lebanon (1998), Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism (2002), The Battle for Saudi Arabia (2004) and ran the popular The Angry Arab blog. He tweets as @asadabukhalil

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

24 comments for “AS`AD AbuKHALIL: Saudi-Iran Deal a Possible US ‘Suez Moment’

  1. Dr. Hujjatullah M.H.Babu Sahib
    March 14, 2023 at 14:22

    Any motion or movement to mend and improve the Shia – Sunni and/or Persian – Arab relationship must be welcomed whole-heartedly. It is just shameful that after having separately embraced Islam in their history and even evolving separately towards theocracy-friendly polities these two states can’t still behave truely Islamically ! This is definitely a move in the right direction.

  2. vinnieoh
    March 14, 2023 at 12:16

    The good professor can always be counted on for background, perspectives, and considerations usually not elucidated by other analysts. I don’t always agree with everything he says, but I’m just a retired honky from the US rustbelt. And, like everyone else, he has his own agenda (this is not a criticism.)

    My intuitive suspicion, after reading Joe’s piece yesterday, was that the devil as always would be found in the details. However developments prove out, thanks CN for this further information. The saga of tribal-monarchic competition continues on in the ME as it has for several thousand years.

    • LeoSun
      March 15, 2023 at 11:06

      Indeed! “the devil as always would be found in the details. However developments prove out, thanks CN for this further information.” vinnieoh

      “When one teaches, two learn.” Robert Heinlein.

      Onward & Upwards!!! Ciao

  3. LeoSun
    March 14, 2023 at 11:43

    Regardless of how “temporary” Peace might be, China + Iran + Saudi Arabia = A Diplomatic Revolution!!! Brokered by Xi JINPING, CHINA. “It’s a BIG F/DEAL!”

    Imo, PEACE in the Middle East f/beats what “we” got in the Divided $tates of Corporate America, perpetual f/war!! …i.e., Biden-Harris + Their Board of Executioners + CONGRESS = MAGA FAILURES!!!

    “The Big Lie about Russia and/or China posing a threat, either to the U.S. itself or to its allies, and the use of that lie (or a whole package of lies) to push for war, is far more dangerous than the lie that Donald Trump “really” won the 2020 election.”

    A best practice, sustain “PEACE.” End the Reign of Terror, in The Middle East by holding the LIARS accountable. Serve ‘em up for prosecution. NOOOObody is gonna miss, DJFTrump, Joey Rotting Biden, Barrack F. OhBama, John F. Bolton, Mike F. Pompeo, Nancy F. Pelosi, Mitch F. McConnell, Lindsey F. Graham, Chuck F. Schumer, Tony F. Blair, Gee Dubyah F. Bush, the effen Cheneys, Boris F. Johnson, Priti F. Patel, Victoria F. Nuland, Antony F. Blinken; and, whoever else is on IRAN’S “Most Wanted,” original, list of Killers in High Places. To do with whatever the flock they want. F/Biden’s-Harris’ RBIO. No Neanderthal ever bombed Syria; but, Joey “Patriot Act” Biden, the SELECTED POTUS did, in less than 60 days, bombed Syria, in February, 2021, i.e., “A Rite of Passage?!?”

    CONGRESS never f/ever authorized war in Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Ukraine, Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.” CONGRESS the “keeper of the purse,” is the Enabler. CONGRESS, the Wolf, is guilty of war crimes & crimes against humanity! Consequently, the BIDEN-HARRIS, the Foxes, reign of terror, “LIVES!!!” ..i.e., The Explosion of The Nordstream 1 & 2 Pipeline, AUKUS, U.$./NATO vs. Russia War in Ukraine, Somalia, Syria, etc., etc., etc.

    ‘The wolf fears there will be blood in the streets. The fox knows he’s got blood on his hands.” Fingers crossed.

  4. Altruist
    March 14, 2023 at 02:19

    The author says that “the agreement for the resumption of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia is just that, an agreement which governed the reopening of embassies in both countries. It signals a thaw in the relationship but not a full-fledged honeymoon. None of the thorny issues between the two countries were sufficiently discussed and no substantive agreements were reached … ”

    This isn’t really correct.

    Some important agreements appear to have been reached, including through secret protocols, to reduce tensions and increase cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

    According to “The Cradle” (hXXps://

    “The Sino-Saudi-Iranian joint statement on Friday carried strong implications beyond the announcement of the restoration of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Riyadh, severed since 2016.

    The statement is very clear:

    The embassies of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic Iran will reopen in less than two months.
    Respect for the sovereignty of States.
    Activating the security cooperation agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran signed in 2001.
    Activating the cooperation agreement in the economic, trade, investment, technology, science, culture, sports and youth sectors signed between the parties in 1998.
    Urging the three countries to exert all efforts to promote regional and international peace and security.

    At first glance, the first four clauses suggest that the Chinese-brokered deal is essentially a mending of diplomatic relations between the two longtime adversaries. But in fact, the fifth clause is far from the standard text inserted into joint statements between states.

    It appears to establish a new reference for conflicts in West Asia, in which China plays the role of “peacemaker” — in partnership with Iran and Saudi Arabia — in which Beijing assumes a role in various regional conflicts or influences the relevant parties.”

    This is being also confirmed by other sources.

    • vinnieoh
      March 14, 2023 at 12:01

      Thank you for this further info/reporting.

  5. Robert Emmett
    March 13, 2023 at 18:04

    What’s that saying about revenge? Best served cold.

    Could this be seen as a long-term, maybe even multi-polar diplomatic response to a brutal u>S. assassination of a revered military leader, General Soleimani, who Iranians say was working on rapprochement between them & the Saudis at the time of his murder?

    Still, if the situation were to turn hot, or go kinetic as the analysts like to say, how would this agreement stop Israel from bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities as they’ve threatened to do?

    Good to see another perspective of this important story on CN.

  6. JonnyJames
    March 13, 2023 at 11:58

    Interesting points and it will be interesting to see this as a watershed moment in history – time will tell. Not to split hairs, but the British Empire was already in steep decline by the time of the Suez crisis. WWI had financially bankrupted the UK, and by the time of the Bretton Woods conference in 1944, the US virtually dictated terms, JM Keynes’ proposals were largely disregarded. The US dominated the IMF/IBRD (World Bank) and the US dollar became dominant.

    Another angle: since the House of Saud was installed by the British Empire, and has no legitimate claim to power, it might be ripe for “regime change”, especially since it has a sizeable Shia population, maybe even half of the population. However, since the rapprochement of Iran/KSA a Shia uprising may be much more difficult to pull off. Also, the risks of “regime change” in KSA would potentially cause a huge crisis in the global economy.

    Also, when KSA starts to accept non USD currency for oil in large-scale trades, the US “red line” will have been crossed. The reason the US can carry such a large sovereign debt is because that debt is supported by US treasury reserves in foreign central banks and foreign countries must buy dollars to buy oil, food and other commodities (priced in USD).. China alone sits on something like 3 TRILLION in USD reserves. The reason the value of the dollar is not near zero, is the huge demand for USD abroad for US stocks, bonds, US treasuries, and other USD denominated commodities and assets. Slowly but surely, we see the de-dollarization of the global economy. The next 10-20 years will be very interesting, to say the least.

  7. Garrett Connelly
    March 13, 2023 at 11:13

    Any rapprochement in western Asia is a positive step in the right direction.

    Thank you Consortium News for publishing this.

    • Rebecca Turner
      March 14, 2023 at 04:01

      “a positive step in the right direction” towards what destination? Lauding this deal without examining the nature of the governments making it is to be blind to the possible outcomes. None of the governments involved or excluded – USA, Iran, Iraq, Israel, China, KSA – is noted for their rejection of capitalism or a warm embrace of socialist ideals, so what changes might the working classes of each nation experience as a result of this deal? The article does not explore this aspect, perhaps because Consortium News, if it has a political slant, seems to believe that any action that moves the world away from US hegemony must be good.

      • Garrett Connelly
        March 14, 2023 at 09:28

        A better destination than merely away from US hegemony would be nice to know. Yes, I agree it is sad that the only development route anyone has found out of poverty leads to capitalist destruction of Earth.

        Consider Chile as a recent example of how tenacious single-minded capitalist trajectory is. After a constituent assembly in Chile laboriously and fairly assembled itself and then redesigned the government to save the planet with human rights, capitalists who numbered less than 17% were able to embarrass the poor and working class with the simple-minded accusation that an advanced democratic constitution respectful of the environment and human rights was “kooky.”

        The population of Chile did not wish to be branded as kooky and voted against their own best interests.

        China, after elevating hundreds of millions from poverty, has, in retrospect, bungled badly by copying the US automobile based culture. On the other hand, China still has large animals that US trophy hunters would have eliminated years ago if they existed in the US.

        My impression is a new form of government to replace US totalitarianism will be difficult because the path forward cannot be seen by any one organization or nation. Democracy that focuses human intelligence is uncomfortable because what we all know together cannot be seen be any of us alone.

        A step away from US hegemony is a step away from the most violent and ugly nation Earth has so far known. That said; I do believe the people within the US can find a way to peace and environmental justice like the people of Chile did. I have placed a Hugo Chávez inspired schematic for a future government on the web to serve this goal. Maybe you will be one who carries it to fruition, hxxps://

  8. Carl Zaisser
    March 13, 2023 at 10:30

    This is a much more cautious article about the constructive prospects going forward coming from this first step of opening diplomatic ties and agreeing to ‘discuss’ than the article Joe Lauria wrote…admittedly based on the possibility of “could”…where all kinds of major change might happen following this breakthrough. Still, it’s a breakthrough. Though if Iran now has to tamp down on criticism of Saudi Arabia making peace with Israel, then, just like Syria having to tamp down on criticism of the UAE for its peace with Israel, one must conclude that both Syria and Iran have abandoned the Palestinian people even further.

  9. Packard
    March 13, 2023 at 07:51

    Sadly, we are already there.

    Twenty years of strategically meaningless wars to nowhere. A $4.5 trillion national debt back in 2001 that today quickly approaches $32 trillion. The debasement of our currency. An age addled, blowhard of a POTUS advised by a woke cabinet of Diverse, Inclusive, & Equitable nitwits. A lavender laced military more concerned about teaching critical race theory and LGBT advocacy issues than it is about preparing to fight wars.

    Millions of low skilled and poorly educated illegal aliens crossing our southern border. 100K+/year in drug overdose deaths, with no end in sight. Mostly peaceful violent crime rising up among our indigenous urban people (a,k.a. America’s perpetual victim class). A hopelessly corrupt, unaccountable, and seditious US State Department, CIA, FBI, DOJ, NSA, US Treasury, & Pentagon.

    Throw in a national proclivity toward legitimizing public degeneracy, sloth, and unearned entitlement. Add all of these things together and you get a once great nation in decline. What did anyone think was going to happen?

    • Valerie
      March 13, 2023 at 10:01

      Put like that Packard, things do seem somewhat precarious for the US. $32 trillion national debt!!!!! Still, there’s always the “Oscars” to divert people’s attention away from the hellish reality. In europe it’s the “Eurovision” song contest. (Why in Godzilla’s name they call it a “song” contest beats me.)

    • Richard A. Pelto
      March 13, 2023 at 10:50

      And all of it is done under societal-validated virtue-signaling banners.

    • Tim N
      March 13, 2023 at 11:29

      “Millions” crossing our border? Bullshit. Same goes for the bullshit about “degeneracy,” and the nonsense about “unearned” entitlement. You don’t know what entitlement means.

      • JonnyJames
        March 13, 2023 at 12:12

        I took the sloth and entitlement as the idle rich financial parasite class – aka the Oligarchy. Unless Packard lives in an ivory tower of wealth and privilege where the servants are always lazy and overpaid ;-) It’s hard to find good hired help nowadays lol.

    • JonnyJames
      March 13, 2023 at 11:31

      I agree, except that the “millions of low skilled, poorly educated illegal aliens crossing the border” has been happening since day one of the AngloAmerican colonial project. The US Empire needs a constant supply of slave labor and cannon fodder, that’s the way it has always been. Immigration became even more important after the end of chattel slavery.
      The “Border Crisis” bullshit is always used as a political tool to distract people and blame the powerless and the poor. Same old BS, different century. Our problems have nothing to do with “illegal” immigrants. Besides, lazy arrogant ‘merkans don’t want to pick fruit and vegetables in 100 degree plus temperatures for slave wages do they? Or work in a slaughterhouse butchering carcasses in a bloody and dangerous job do they? Upton Sinclair’s classic “The Jungle” is a good source to illustrate this.

      • Selina Sweet
        March 13, 2023 at 13:40

        Thank you for a voice of truth and awareness of the larger reality. The Mr Packards – if they were truly interested in reality meaning were open minded to actually experience the other side of the tracks – could be a force for community transformation. Volunteering in a hospital emergency ward, or a community soup kitchen, or in an urban public school or reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X or The Beloved or teach in a prison like the journalist Chris Hedges does inNJ State prison would do wonders for deepening the world view of one long ensconced in a cocoon disconnected -experientially – from the daily life conditions of most of the citizenry. But doing that takes either a humility, passion, or driving curiosity plus courage to self question one’s assumptions and challenge one’s illusions. Doing so takes a rare bird. I wonder how many they are in Mr. Packard’s Fraternity? Comfort seems to anesthetize soul.

      • Rafael
        March 13, 2023 at 15:58

        Agreed. . . . . crossing the “border” from one part of their land to the other part of their land, the part that was expropriated by the militarily expanding AngloAmerican colonial project.

    • Charles E. Carroll
      March 13, 2023 at 12:17

      Could not be said better! Thank you!

    • Jim Glover
      March 13, 2023 at 16:17

      Well said and true1

    • Lois Gagnon
      March 13, 2023 at 20:33

      Punching down to blame those with the least political agency for our dire circumstances while letting the true perpetrators off the hook is easy, but not legitimate. Deregulation of corporate capitalism combined with allowing the capture of all our institutions by anyone with enough money to to do so has brought this country and the West in general to the point of collapse. Poor people don’t rule the world. They never have.

    • Rebecca Turner
      March 14, 2023 at 04:06

      Your revolting, unashamedly racist rant impresses only fools, Packard. Do you really think that the US military is not preparing to fight a completely unnecessary war of global hegemony against China? As for “violent crime rising up among our indigenous urban people”, every reader knows which colour of skin those people possess. “a once great nation in decline”? Seriously? When was the USA ‘great’? During the Jim Crow era of public lynching of those “indigenous urban people”, or before that, when vast millions of those people’s ancestors were abducted from their homes, transported across the ocean in conditions of utter misery, and forced to work on plantations for the rest of their lives for no pay at all?

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