Biden's Upcoming Visit to the Middle East… Reasons and Goals
Two main reasons are behind Biden’s forthcoming high-profile visit.
Joe Biden’s first visit to the Middle East, as president of the US, has been officially decided; it will take place between 13 and 16 of next month, during which he will visit “Israel”, the Palestinian Authority, and Saudi Arabia. Two main reasons are behind Biden’s forthcoming high-profile visit.
First is the conflict in Ukraine between Russia and the West and its repercussions. Four months already passed since the fighting broke out, with no decisive results. It looks as though matters are heading towards a long-term confrontation. The massive US military and financial support for Ukraine, political and media mobilization, and successive arrays of sanctions did not compel Russia to back down or raise the white flag. It is true that it had an important economic impact, but this is a price that Russia is consciously paying in order to repel dangers that it considers far greater and more threatening to its national security. On the other side, the great support that Ukraine receives has become a burden on Western countries, in addition to the repercussions of the conflict on the global economy. The energy crisis resulting from Russian oil and gas supplies is particularly affecting European countries. Fuel prices in Europe and USA are record-high, and the ordinary citizens, who began suffering, are pressing their governments to find solutions to the rising prices of goods and services - Hence the US president's need for the cooperation of Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil producer.
Saudi Arabia saw the Ukraine crisis as an opportunity to show its importance and restore its much-reduced standing with America. Biden’s words during his election campaign, and even after his election as president, were very bad and humiliating towards Saudi Arabia: he described it as a "pariah" and said that crown prince Mohammed bin Salman should be held accountable for the barbaric killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist in Turkey in 2018. Biden pledged he won’t deal with Mohammed bin Salman, and would only have an official relationship with the king himself. In fact, Biden was reflecting the mainstream within the Democratic Party that views Saudi Arabia very negatively and considers it a backward regime that does not respect the values of democracy and human rights. This started during President Obama’s days, during whose era the relationship with Saudi Arabia reached rock bottom. Biden, of course, was Obama’s vice president. Saudi Arabia felt it didn’t deserve that harsh treatment from the Democratic Party. Actually, Saudi Arabia was ready to cooperate and meet anything that was asked of it, as it had always done for decades, but the estrangement and “hostility” came from Obama and his Democrats. Consequently, Saudi Arabia threw all its cards into Donald Trump's basket, and bet on him to get out of the status that Obama imposed on it, and for that, it “tolerated” all Trump's rudeness, arrogance, and even insults! Saudi Arabia has become part of the internal partisan struggle in America: the attack on Saudi Arabia and on Mohammed bin Salman, in particular, was considered as an attack on Trump.
Saudi Arabia took advantage of the war in Ukraine to settle its account with Biden. It took a balanced position and didn’t take part in the sanctions regimes that the West began to impose on Russia, maintained a distance separating it from Biden’s America, and watched the global energy problem and the rise in gas and oil prices idly. In the eyes of Saudi Arabia now it is the right time for reaping the harvest! A state of euphoria prevails in the Saudi media after Biden announced his intention to visit Saudi Arabia and meet the Crown Prince. "On his knees", said some Saudi writers referring to Biden’s forthcoming arrival. Joe Biden, on his part, does not mind backing down and changing his position on Mohammed bin Salman. Actually, Biden is an old professional politician who believes that interests are above principles and that everything is negotiable. There is no doubt that Biden will get from the Saudis a big prize for his public retreat from his policy toward bin Salman. This new friendship between Biden and Saudi Arabia is dictated by political and strategic interests. Saudi Arabia’s position and preference in the US remain unchanged; hoping for the Democrats’ defeat in the elections and dreaming of Trump's return to power in 2024.
The second and most important factor is the Iranian issue. A year and a half have passed since the Biden administration took office, and negotiations with Iran to revive the nuclear agreement are still stumbling. No breakthrough occurred despite the many rounds that were held between the two parties. This is not at all a comfortable situation for the Biden administration, which has become under intense pressure and feels the need to do something tangible to persuade, entice or force Iran to return to compliance with the terms of the 2015 agreement that was concluded with the Obama administration.
The Biden administration cannot bear the continuation of the current situation, as Iran continues its nuclear activities and is making steady progress in its program after dropping many of the restrictions it committed itself to in accordance with the original agreement from which America pulled out. Iran, from its part, feels itself in a strong position, as it has managed to absorb the impact of the tough sanctions imposed by Trump in 2018. It is true that the Iranian economy has suffered and is still suffering, but the Iranian government has succeeded in dealing with the sanctions and has developed plans for a national economy that does not depend on oil revenues. The policy of strategic patience and the gradual escalation of its nuclear activities have borne fruits, and put the other side under the pressure of time. There is no doubt that Iran has an interest in achieving an agreement that will get it out of the economic blockade and sanctions dilemma, but it is not in a hurry, and feels that it is able to extract better terms and obtain extra guarantees that would prevent the United States from repeating the scenario of withdrawal and reversing its commitments as Trump did.
To appease Israeli worries concerning Iran’s achievements, the US moved to establish and lead a regional military-security grouping directed against Tehran. The proposed alliance includes Arab countries in addition to “Israel”, or an “Arab-Israeli NATO”, as some commentators said. America is saying to Iran that it will not wait indefinitely for the completion of a new nuclear agreement or the revival of the faltering old one. Rather, it will move to a policy of pressure and escalation, and it can mobilize all the countries of the region against it that include both Arabs and Israelis.
The Israeli dimension is of special importance in the American move. “Israel” will be the first stop in Biden's visit. There is a feeling in "Israel" of failure and strategic impotence in confronting Iran and the “axis of resistance” in the region. The Israeli press, think tanks, and senior former and current officials, do not stop talking about the need to "constrain Iran" and eliminate its nuclear program and missile capabilities. In the Israeli media, there is hysteria regarding Iran. The Israeli frustration with the Democratic Party's policy towards Iran is well known, starting from the era of Obama - Hillary Clinton all the way to the Biden administration. "Israel" prefers a military approach regarding the Iranian nuclear program, but it is not strong enough to do that on its own, and instead “Israel” wants America to do it. As for the raids that "Israel" frequently launch on targets inside Syria, they do not have significant impact and failed to suppress on the increasing power of Iran and its allies in the region. “Israel” finds itself in a weak strategic position in the region, especially after the resistance movements in Gaza and Lebanon succeeded in imposing a state of mutual deterrence with it, thanks to the development of its Iranian-backed missile and combat capabilities. And the intelligence operations and targeting of scientific and leadership cadres inside Iran have only led to more Iranian determination to respond and raise the level of support for the resistance movements in Gaza, which have become capable of inflicting significant losses in the Israeli depth. “Israel” was unable to translate the normalization and the "Abraham” agreements with the Arab countries into a real strategic achievement, thanks to Iran and the “axis of resistance”.
In these circumstances, Biden will arrive in “Israel”. He will reaffirm to “Israel” America's commitment to its protection, security and future. But "Israel" has to follow America’s orders and be part of its strategy and policy, the most important of which is to be very cautious and avoid drifting toward a military confrontation with Iran. America wants to set the rhythm in the region and to confront Iran in its own way. Steps against Iran have to be carefully calculated, politically, economically or militarily (if necessary), so that America would have the ultimate say on what should be done. America will not allow the regional allies, especially “Israel” and Saudi Arabia, to drag it to where it does not want to be. Biden will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The meeting is intended to highlight the difference in policy between the Democrats in America and Donald Trump who excluded the Palestinians and assumed that peace can be established in the region on the basis of economic cooperation between "Israel" and the Arab countries.
Through his initiative and a renewed appreciation of America’s historical allies, Biden is trying to re-establish the US policy in our region, which has deteriorated in the past years. The high-profile visit was not going to take place if the US wasn’t facing great and serious challenges at the global level. America actually needs all the elements that could help it in its direct conflict with Russia, and its biggest encounter with China.