Context: Saudi Arabia has been pursuing as assertive foreign policy in order to extend its influence in the West Asia.
For past many years, Saudi’s foreign policy centred around Iran and it resulted into the proxy conflicts across the region. The rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran is rooted in Islamic sectarianism. While Iran is the foremost Shia state in the world, Saudi Arabia is considered to be the religious home of Sunni Islam. This sectarian rivalry has translated into a tussle for regional hegemony and both sides being involved in multiple proxy conflicts against each other in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and most devastatingly, Yemen.
Saudi’s changing foreign policy:
- It agreed to establish ties with Iran through talks mediated by China.
- Saudi – Omani delegation hold talks with Houthi rebels for a permanent ceasefire.
- It is holding talks with Syria to normalize ties with Assad Regime which may result into re-entry of Syria to Arab League.
- It is also trying to balance its relationships with the US, Russia, and China.
The reason behind the shift:
- Saudi’s past endeavours in West Asia were either unsuccessful or only partially successful.
- In Yemen, Saudi led coalition failed to oust Houthi’s from Sana’a (Yemen’s Capital).
- Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030” calls for diversifying the oil-dependent economy by attracting tourism and foreign investment. Regional peace will be crucial to turning Saudi Arabia into the global hub that “Vision 2030” envisions. This has led to Saudi Arabia making concerted efforts to end long-standing conflicts/rivalries with powers across the region.
- As the U.S. shifts its priorities away from West Asia, Saudi Arabia is confronted with a choice to either persist in their unsuccessful efforts to contain Iran in a region or they can work towards establishing a new balance with Iran.
Implications for the region:
- Saudi Arabia’s normalization talks with Syria would help improve the overall relationship between Syria and other Arab capitals.
- If Saudis can reach a settlement with Houthis, it could infuse some stability in the Gulf region.