In the wake of escalating tensions and a burgeoning humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has taken a pivotal diplomatic step by convening a pair of significant summits with key regional players, including the attendance of Iran's President. Set against the backdrop of over a month of intense Israeli airstrikes with mounting casualties, this gathering has drawn the international community's focus towards the Middle Eastern powerhouse's role in navigating the complexities of regional politics and the pursuit of stability.
Diplomatic Efforts Intensify Amid Regional Crisis
The emergency summits, drawing members from the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), are Saudi Arabia's response to the dire situation in Gaza, where the death toll has surpassed 10,000 with a significant number of children among the victims, as reported by the Hamas-led health ministry. This grim scenario has come about following a devastating attack by Hamas on October 7, which, according to Israeli officials, resulted in over 1,400 deaths and the capture of around 240 hostages.
Seeking a Path to Ceasefire
Israel's stringent stance on refusing ceasefire negotiations until the hostages are released has added fuel to the already simmering anger across Saudi Arabia and heightened concerns about a potential spill-over of the conflict, threatening the region's delicate equilibrium. This situation has placed further strain on the kingdom's ambitious economic diversification efforts, as outlined in Vision 2030, away from its traditional reliance on oil revenues.
Balancing Regional Alliances and Tensions
As the world's largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, along with its neighbors, harbors concerns over an escalation that could extend beyond Gaza's borders. Notably, two Gulf nations, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, normalized relations with Israel in 2020, with Saudi Arabia also pondering a similar move, all while maintaining robust security cooperation with the United States, Israel's stalwart ally. The worry that Iranian proxy groups could retaliate, targeting those aligned with Israel and the U.S., has been a subject of discussion among regional analysts.
Expectations from the Arab League Summit
The urgency to halt the conflict is palpable, with Saudi analysts emphasizing that success for the Arab League's meeting hinges on its ability to exert meaningful pressure on Israel to cease military actions. As the host, Saudi Arabia's role is dual-faceted: it has openly supported the Palestinian cause while continuing to advance its national agenda, including economic and cultural initiatives that form part of the crown prince's reform plans.
Saudi Arabia's Strategic Diplomatic Positioning
The Riyadh summits may well be the beginning of a more assertive diplomatic approach from Saudi Arabia, leveraging its longstanding support for Palestinians and its potential future recognition of Israel. This strategy aims not only at safeguarding national interests but also at contributing constructively to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
A Historic Presence: Iran's Participation in the OIC Summit
Adding to the summits' significance is Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi's attendance at the OIC summit, marking his first visit to Saudi Arabia following the restoration of bilateral ties facilitated by China. Despite their historical animosity and competing interests in regional conflicts, both Saudi Arabia and Iran share a public stance in supporting Palestinians, a sentiment that was underscored in a recent conversation between Raisi and Prince Mohammed.
Wider Implications for Global Support
The summits are set to not only address immediate regional concerns but also to reflect the shifting attitudes of non-Western countries towards the Palestinian plight, challenging traditional narratives of the conflict. The outcome of the OIC summit, particularly, has the potential to resonate across its diverse membership spanning Africa to Asia, reinforcing a growing consensus that transcends the Middle Eastern landscape.
The eyes of the world are now on Riyadh, as Saudi Arabia spearheads these crucial discussions. As regional dynamics continue to unfold, the effectiveness of these summits in bringing about peace and stability remains to be seen, with the potential repercussions echoing far beyond the borders of the nations involved.