The Biden Administration Must Rethink Its Approach to Saudi Arabia

June 22 2022

A year and a half ago, President Biden came into office determined to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah,” largely because the U.S. had concluded that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had ordered the 2018 murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Richard Haass argues that, as Biden prepares to visit the kingdom this summer, he would do well to focus instead on the concerns Washington shares with Riyadh, particularly the threat of a nuclear Iran.

Higher energy prices are fueling inflation, which has emerged as the greatest economic and political challenge facing the Biden administration. Suddenly, Saudi Arabia, the rare oil producer with the ability to increase output relatively quickly, is a much-needed partner again.

Other factors are at work as well. Several Arab countries in recent years, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, have made peace with Israel. Bringing Saudi Arabia, host to the holiest sites in the Muslim world, into the peace camp would have great symbolic and political value. Also paving the way to a presidential visit is Saudi Arabia’s embrace of a cease-fire in Yemen.

What could ultimately prove to be the most important reason, though, is Iran. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia find themselves sharing mounting concern over Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, as well as its support for violent groups in Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. It is a classic case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Close cooperation between the kingdom and the U.S. will be essential if, as seems increasingly likely, diplomatic efforts to restore the 2015 nuclear pact with Iran fail—or fail to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear breakout with little or no notice.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy

Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria