Nadim Koteich

The Message of the Funeral

The condolences that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates extended to Iran following the death of its president, Ebrahim Raisi have not gone unnoticed.
The attendance of both countries’ foreign ministers at the funeral, following the helicopter crash that killed Raisi, reflects the significant strategic and diplomatic decisions they have made at an extremely complicated time for the region.
Then came Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s call to the acting president of Iran, Mohammed Mokhber. As well as offering his condolences, he announced that he had accepted an invitation to visit Iran, affirming that this diplomatic gesture was made within the framework of a broader approach of seeking to maintain regional stability, safeguard economic interests, and reinforce the geopolitical influence of both sides.
Saudi Arabia is keen on maintaining the climate of de-escalation created by the Saudi-Iranian normalization agreement brokered by China last year. The Kingdom is even more keen on reassuring everyone concerned that it is committed to maintaining and to developing its new relationship with Iran, irrespective of potential changes to Iran’s government.
These steps confirm that the impetus behind Saudi Arabia's policy towards Iran goes beyond immediate security concerns and the pragmatism of mitigating the threats posed by Iranian-backed groups in the region, such as the Houthis in Yemen. Through these diplomatic gestures, Saudi Arabia is calling for stable relations with Iran to become part of its efforts to create an environment in which its "Vision 2030" economic project can strive. This plan to diversify the Saudi economy within a stable regional environment conducive to foreign investment and economic integration will benefit every regional actor, not only Saudi Arabia. Indeed, everyone wins if we pursue economic development instead of waging conflicts over influence and leadership in the Gulf and the broader Middle East.
The UAE's participation in Raisi's funeral also reflects a commitment to maintaining its delicate yet vital relationship with Iran.
This approach highlights Abu Dhabi’s broader strategy founded on economic pragmatism, which also calls on Iran to become a partner in creating a new Middle East where strong commercial links take precedence over political disputes.
The UAE has consolidated its position as a global trade hub by productively leveraging and investing in its strategic location between East and West, developing its logistical infrastructure and rapid transit lines, and establishing a strategic network of free trade agreements with many countries across the globe, most notably with China.
Accordingly, the last thing the countries of the region want is to shoot themselves in the foot by conspiring against Iran or undermining its instability as some allege. Doing so would risk jeopardizing their projects for the future.
The presence of Gulf officials in Tehran sent a clear message to the Iranians. The two countries underlined their commitment to fostering a stable relationship with Iran that is built on cooperation that reduces regional disputes, safeguards shared security, and paves the way for shared economic prosperity.
The ball is now in Iran's court. It can build on this sincerity, which allows for high-level officials of the three countries to visit one another’s capitals and establish joint committees on trade, engage in dialogue to ensure regional security, promote cultural exchange, build infrastructure, and reach agreements that reduce the severity of conflicts, especially in Gaza and the Red Sea. The overtures of Saudi Arabia and the UAE also open the door to cooperation on humanitarian efforts in the Gaza Strip, which could build trust and demonstrate solidarity.
The great fear is that Iran will remain captive to a long history of inconsistency and mutual mistrust with its Gulf neighbors and that extremism and the pursuit of geopolitical competition rooted in sectarian and strategic considerations will prevail against serious efforts to reshape relations.
Most dangerously, when Iran’s relations with its neighbors and the world become toxic, it becomes isolated, and its economy and regime’s popularity are undermined, Tehran becomes more sensitive to its domestic dynamics and fears that softening its regional stances could be perceived as a sign of weakness, encouraging its domestic rivals lying in wait.
The darkest moments in the history of Gulf-Iranian relations have always had the potential to seize the future. Does another tedious reiteration of past experiences await us this time?
The glimmer of hope created by the manner in which Saudi Arabia and the UAE expressed their condolences at president Raisi’s funeral presents a rare opportunity to build a better future for the region. This opportunity is reflected by a strategic decision to combine diplomatic respect, economic pragmatism, and geopolitical overtures... Will Iran seize it?