Once again a dashed hope for peace for the Middle East

BEIJING – The recent tensions in the Middle East, especially between Iran and Israel, are of great concern to me.

Not only because my work involves international news commentary, but also because I worked for more than two years in Iran, where I have many friends.

After Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards launched missiles and drones at Israeli targets on the evening of April 13 in retaliation for an earlier attack on the Iranian consulate in Syria, as I waited for Israel’s response, I was chatting with my Iranian colleague on WeChat, a Chinese instant service. messaging app. He expressed concern: “I’m a little worried. I think Israel will retaliate, but I don’t think it would take the risk and bother to start a full-fledged war.”

I told him that if the situation escalated, I would be willing to return to Iran to report. He replied: “I miss you, but I hope you don’t come to Iran unless in a peaceful atmosphere.”

His assessment turned out to be correct. I worked in Iran from March 2021 to April 2023. Not long before I returned to China, a wave of reconciliation swept through the Middle East, bringing hope and optimism to the region known for its complex geopolitics.

During that time, fewer people in China asked me about the dangers of the Middle East, and more people asked about traveling to Iran and other Middle Eastern countries.

The culmination of regional reconciliation was on March 10 last year, when Iran and Saudi Arabia, mediated by China, agreed to restore diplomatic ties. While I was still working in Iran that day, my phone was buzzing with notifications about this major breakthrough in Beijing.

This big and unexpected news made headlines in major Iranian newspapers and made taxi drivers on the streets of Tehran excited when they heard that I was Chinese, and eagerly shared their joy with me.

During that period, Syria rejoined the Arab League and countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE reconciled with Qatar, ending the blockade imposed on the latter since 2017.

The internal factors behind the wave of reconciliation included Middle Eastern countries focusing on domestic progress and proactively improving the development environment.

Externally, the rapprochement in the Middle East was related to the US strategic shift from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific, which provided an opportunity for Middle Eastern countries to ease relations with regional adversaries.

Meanwhile, the contributions of peace activists like China have played a crucial role in facilitating reconciliation in the region. As a Chinese journalist, I am proud that my country has played an important role in promoting peace in the Middle East.

However, in October last year, Hamas attacked Israeli targets, prompting Israel to launch aerial bombardments and ground operations in Gaza. A new round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict broke out, throwing the Middle East into turmoil again, despite the generally peaceful atmosphere brought about by the reconciliation.

Israeli military actions in Gaza have resulted in more than 34,000 deaths to date, with even more Gazans struggling with famine and on the brink of death. This round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to spread, causing tensions in multiple directions across the region. Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthi rebels in Yemen have clashed with Israel to show support for the Palestinians. An April 1 airstrike killed several senior Iranian commanders on the Iranian embassy complex in Syria, directly injecting Iran into tensions.

Fortunately, this clash between Iran and Israel has not escalated into a full-scale conflict so far.

On April 14, the Chinese Foreign Ministry called for restraint and calm. It also underlined the urgent need to quickly quell unrest in Gaza. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks with counterparts from Iran and Saudi Arabia on April 15, vowing that Beijing will make efforts to prevent further escalation of the confrontation.

Like other responsible members of the international community, China’s primary goal is to prevent Middle Eastern countries from falling into a cycle of retaliation. China’s strong diplomatic ties with many Middle Eastern countries enable effective coordination between them.

While China actively mediates for peace in the Middle East, the United States repeatedly demands that China influence Iran and blames China for not influencing Iran according to Western wishes as one of the reasons for the tense situation in the Middle East.

These positions contain two inaccuracies. First, China does not view economic exchanges and other forms of intercountry relations as geopolitical tools, let alone use them to manipulate other countries. Second, the most important key to reducing tensions in the Middle East is for the United States to contain Israel.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States have struggled to break away from the influence of Jewish lobby groups, which have influenced the core of American Middle East policy. It is the United States’ pro-Israel stance that continues to exacerbate tensions in the region.

Although Washington regularly makes verbal commitments to peace, mainly to calm domestic anti-war protests and win votes in the upcoming presidential elections, its actions tell a different story. The country has consistently provided military support to Israel and repeatedly vetoed UN Security Council resolutions on a Gaza ceasefire. In the long term, Washington has pursued a divisive strategy in the Middle East, exploiting regional conflicts and promoting arms sales for regional dominance.

Most recently, the United States vetoed a draft resolution calling for Palestine’s full membership in the UN on April 18, undermining the decades-long aspirations of the Palestinian people.

China will continue to work with the international community to restore peace, save lives and promote justice. The United States must also take responsibility for its role in the conflicts in the Middle East, rather than shifting blame to other countries.

Gao Wencheng is a commentary writer at the international news department of the Chinese news agency Xinhua. From 2021 to 2023, he worked at the agency’s Tehran office.