Much has been said and will be said about those who paved the way, contributed and mediated, about regional and international circumstances and transformations, and about a military decision that changed the equations, but the central decision was there, inside the corridors of one of the royal palaces, and it was produced through an active Saudi diplomatic movement that overcame obstacles, convinced the hesitant, and embarrassed the naysayers. It was not a coincidence that the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, spoke three times in a row at the last ministerial meeting in Cairo, which approved the return of Syria to its seat in the university. The Cairo meeting, and the Crown Prince’s instructions to him were clear about turning the Syrian page.
Prince Muhammad’s reforms in the Saudi interior were described as a revolution from above, in parallel with an Arab spring that turned into a bloody fall due to external interference in more than one Arab country. , the educational system, the relationship with Washington, the search for alternatives to oil…etc. Now, what is happening on the external level can be described as a diplomatic revolution, whether it is related to the strategic relationship with China, where trade exchange is close to 100 billion dollars, or the agreement with Iran in the heart of China, or the reconciliation with Assad, zeroing the problems with Turkey, and ending the Yemen war. .
The US Republicans, led by Joe Biden, raised the level of threat and arrogance in the face of the prince. The master of the White House said before he reached him that he would turn Saudi Arabia into a “pariah state”. The prince responded in televised interviews and international forums that he would not accept the intervention of any country and that America’s economy has historically flourished thanks to oil contracts with Saudi Arabia, expanded its relations with Beijing and Moscow, and used the oil price weapon in line with his country’s interests and reaction.
Prince Muhammad never considered the Syrian war his war, as he inherited it and sought to distance himself from it. He told those who visited him that he did not want anything from Bashar al-Assad except for the exit of Iran and Hezbollah. The decision to reconcile with Damascus came in the midst of the agreement with Iran, but it also came within the context of responding to the contexts of the Saudi agreements with Russia and China. Moscow played a major role, which remained out of the limelight, in persuading Arab countries to turn the Syrian page. This also relieves the Russian leadership of great military and material burdens. And it strengthens Vladimir Putin’s front in his bitter struggle in Ukraine against the Atlantic West.
Had the Emir obeyed the will of Washington and NATO, he would not have opened up to Syria. The American fangs and claws soon appeared, a few days after the Cairo meeting decided to return Syria to the university. Last Thursday, a group of American lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic parties presented a bill to prevent the US government from recognizing Bashar al-Assad as the president of Syria, and to use the sword of sanctions against countries that normalize relations with the Syrian leadership, and to expand the American Caesar Act, which imposes a set of strict sanctions on Syria since 2020.
The American message was clear. US National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan went to Riyadh on May 6, publicly carrying many carrots, and a stick that he did not dare use.
It is true that Arab normalization with Damascus disturbs Washington and relieves Moscow, but the Democratic administration in Washington still aspires to a Saudi “grandmother” that contributes to strengthening Biden’s chances in the upcoming elections. Washington wants to convince Saudi Arabia of public normalization with Israel, and is actively seeking to develop the idea of the so-called “I2U2 group project that includes India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.” This project aims to enhance opportunities for cooperation between business communities in the four countries and to enhance maritime security, infrastructure, crossings and trade routes. It was officially launched during the Group leaders’ summit held in July 2022.
Jack Sullivan explained at length the goals of this project, which complements the Abraham Accords. He told The Washington Institute that the world will hear a lot about him in the next stage, explaining how he will link South Asia with the Middle East and then with the United States, through ways that serve the American economy and diplomacy.
Prince Muhammad Maghazi realizes this project in America’s attempt to surround the Chinese “Belt and Road” initiative. He knows that all Gulf or Arab normalization with Israel is one thing, and that the Arab-Islamic kingdom’s normalization is another thing, which has enormous dimensions on the Arab and Islamic levels. But he said it, and he will repeat it at the Jeddah summit a few days later, that normalization will be linked to the two-state solution, and that the Arab peace initiative that was put forward in Beirut in 2002 based on the idea of the late King Abdullah is still the basis. It is okay to take steps of good intentions, such as opening Saudi airspace to some Israeli planes or receiving some Israelis on special occasions, but the decision to normalize has a greater price than just a gift to the hesitant and faltering Biden or the Democrats, and such a decision does not come under governments that are the most extremist in the history of Israel.
In the face of these major transformations, there is no doubt that the young prince smiles when he mentions Lebanon. What role does the homeland of rice play in major deals, in wealth and oil projects, and in the vast world of technology? Does the crown prince really care who will be the president of Lebanon?
Most likely not, because he realizes, as did all Saudi leaders before him, that Lebanon is a group of corrupt politicians, like those whom he imprisoned and stripped of their money when he assumed power. He is supported by Saudi youth, whose percentage in the population is close to about 70 percent. He knows that the Lebanese will not agree on anything, and that any president who will come will not be able to take any action without Gulf money and an Arab role.
This conviction increased in the face of the presence of a disjointed opposition, dissonant Christian currents and parties, and the subsequent loss in agreeing on another strong name to compete with Franjieh in the elections.
Who knows, perhaps the Emir will think, as many Arab leaders previously thought, that Syria is the long-term solution in Lebanon, and that the C-C formula is the best way to reduce what Riyadh sees as “Hezbollah’s burden” and prevent the Captagon trade. Moreover, the reconstruction workshop in Syria may later be included in the Prince’s projects and his plan, “Saudi Vision 2030.”
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi is said to be mediating between Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia. It is said about strengthening Riyadh’s role in Iraq, and there is accurate information about communication in the past days between Saudi and Russian officials on Lebanon, and between the Saudi and Russian ambassadors in Beirut.
Moscow is trying to convince Riyadh of Suleiman Franjieh. The Saudis answer that they do not have any veto over anyone and do not support anyone, and that they are not against Franjieh, and that they heard what he said recently and that his echo reached the Emir himself that he would not run against the will of Riyadh, and they gladly accepted the guarantees he provided, but they asked the Russians: “What guarantee Will he not change his mind later under pressure from the party?” The answer of the Russians was that they are the guarantors. Perhaps in this context, the visit of the head of the Marada Movement to Ambassador Walid Al-Bukhari came.
The Russians are also trying to reassure socialist leader Walid Jumblatt. The man, according to their information, is very concerned about the re-floating of Assad and the Arab-Syrian rapprochement.
In sum, the Saudi role is currently far beyond Ain al-Tineh, Bnachii, Rabieh, Maarab, al-Mukhtara, and al-Dahiya. It contributes to drawing up regional and international equations that might turn the face of the region if it succeeded. There is no doubt that the danger to the Emir himself multiplies, as the man crossed all the red lines that no one dared to do. A king or prince before him to overcome it since the decision to cut off Arab oil in the 1973 war.
It is a major adventure that deserves to be pursued, instead of being distracted by the husks of a Lebanese policy that does not advance or delay in the calculations of the region and the world.