Schallenberg in Riyadh – Saudi Arabia: key to a new era in the Middle East


Saudi Arabia is one of the most important players in the Middle East. Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg hopes for the influence of the “guardian of the holiest Muslim sites” for lasting stability in the region.

“Saudi Arabia is a regulatory power whose influence extends beyond the region,” Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said on Thursday after visiting his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan. The main topics were the conflict in the Gaza Strip and the possible normalization of relations with Israel, which is mainly promoted by the US.

Wahhabi word has weight
The basic tenor: if Saudi Arabia takes the lead, the Muslim world will follow. As the recognized leader of the ‘Ummah’, the Muslim community, and with the king as guardian of Islam’s holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, the word of the Wahhabi kingdom carries weight.

A visit to Mecca, the so-called hajj, which every Muslim should make once in their life, presents Saudi Arabia with logistical challenges every year. Millions of Muslims undertake the hajj, and organizers are often hopelessly overwhelmed. To tackle the problem, Saudi Arabia issues quotas. Countries with a Muslim minority also have to participate in a lottery. Conversely, the Saudis enabled many Muslim elites, such as scholars, journalists, and politicians, to make free pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia and accommodated them in luxury hotels as guests of the Saudi king.

“Vision 2030”
In fact, many opinion leaders in Muslim countries were reluctant to criticize the Saudis for fear that they would be denied access to make the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. The kingdom can use this influence to its advantage – even when it comes to recognizing Israel. “Saudi Arabia has so far responded only very cautiously to the issue,” Schallenberg said. For reasons: the ‘Vision 2030’ – a massive economic and infrastructure project with three trillion dollars invested so far. “For a project like this you need peace and quiet in the region,” says Schallenberg. The terrorist attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7 last year and the rocket attacks by the Houthi rebels in the Red Sea are therefore a serious disruptive factor.

Defense alliance and nuclear aid for the recognition of Israel
Against all these backdrops, the US is trying to make a deal with Saudi Arabia: a defense alliance, similar to what the US is doing with Japan and South Korea, plus support for the acquisition of civilian nuclear energy. According to the White House, the deal is 90 percent complete. The return: the recognition of Israel. Riyadh still refrains from doing so. Other Arab states have already concluded an ‘Abraham Accord’.

As the US administration under President Joe Biden pursues a bilateral deal with Saudi Arabia tied to historic normalization with Israel, Pentagon officials are working behind the scenes to consolidate what experts see as the cornerstone of Washington’s broader Middle East strategy for the next few years. The underlying message in these discussions is that we are stronger when we act together.

The Iranian threat brings people together
The idea is not new. The administrations of U.S. Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump have all tried to convince Arab states to cooperate on air defense. The White House is currently saying that things are different this time. Because the Gulf states now recognize a clear threat from Iran and its allied militias.

Skepticism persists. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 and the end of support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen have not yet been forgotten in the Middle East. Moreover, the issue remains extremely politically sensitive for the Arab states. People still want to avoid Israel’s side. It would herald a new era in the Middle East.

Source: Krone


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