The Unnecessary Crisis in U.S.-Saudi Relations, and How to Fix It

The recent decision taken by the OPEC+ cartel, with the full support of Saudi Arabia, to raise the price of oil has further exacerbated the growing rift between the Washington and Riyadh, and left many in the U.S.—especially those aligned with the Democratic party—furious. But, as Hussein Ibish explains, the reasons behind the kingdom’s decision have much to do with its economic agenda for the coming decades, and little to do with the priorities of its American critics:

The U.S. perception is that Saudi Arabia [has] sided with Moscow, given that high oil prices will strengthen the Russian economy against sanctions. The Saudis have also stumbled into U.S. domestic politics. Democrats in general have a negative view of Saudi Arabia, . . . partly rooted in the perception that the Saudis are aligned with Republicans, especially former President Donald Trump. They assume Riyadh is attempting to put its thumb on the scale to help Republicans in next month’s congressional elections and even set the stage for a Trump comeback.

The Saudis weren’t thinking about Ukraine—like many people in Asia and Africa, they don’t think in absolute terms of being pro- or anti-Russian—although that was certainly shortsighted. And it’s frankly narcissistic for Democrats to imagine that the Saudis are adjusting their national grand strategy around the upcoming midterm vote. Once the Trump administration declined to respond to the devastating Iranian drone and missile attacks on Saudi Aramco facilities in September 2019, any lingering sense that Republicans were the answer for Saudi concerns evaporated.

But the countries do still need each other. Only the U.S. can provide Saudi Arabia the security it requires. And the Saudis are the only plausible regional partner for the still-strategically crucial U.S. dominance in the waterways of the Persian Gulf, which constitutes one of Washington’s most potent forms of leverage over rivals like China.

After tempers cool, the U.S. needs to formulate a new security commitment to Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia. This would effectively update the 1979 Carter doctrine—a pledge to rebuff any nation that attempts to dominate the Gulf by force—and respond to contemporary threats like the 2019 missile attacks. And that agreement, of course, would be contingent on the Gulf Arabs renewing their commitment to U.S. interests and Washington’s global as well as regional strategies.

Read more at Bloomberg

More about: Democrats, Oil, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy

The Possible Death of Mohammad Deif, and What It Means

On Saturday, Israeli jets destroyed a building in southern Gaza, killing a Hamas brigade commander named Rafa Salameh. Salameh is one of the most important figures in the Hamas hierarchy, but he was not the primary target. Rather it was Mohammad Deif, who is Yahya Sinwar’s number-two and is thought to be the architect and planner of numerous terrorist attacks, of Hamas’s tunnel network, and of the October 7 invasion itself. Deif has survived at least five Israeli attempts on his life, and the IDF has consequently been especially reluctant to confirm that he had been killed. Yet it seems that it is possible, and perhaps likely, that he was.

Kobi Michael notes that Deif’s demise would have major symbolic value and, moreover, deprive Hamas of important operational know-how. But he also has some words of caution:

The elimination of Deif becomes even more significant given the current reality of severe damage to Hamas’s military wing and its transition to terrorism and guerrilla warfare. However, it is important to remember that organizations such as Hamas and Hizballah are more than the sum of their components or commanders. Israel has previously eliminated the leaders of these organizations and other very senior military figures, and yet the organizations continued to grow, develop, and become more significant security threats to Israel, while establishing their status as political players in the Palestinian and Lebanese arenas.

As for the possibility that Deif’s death will harden Hamas’s position in the hostage negotiations, Tamir Hayman writes:

In my opinion, even if there is a bump in the road now, it is not a strategic one. The reasons that Hamas decided to compromise its demands in the [hostage] deal stem from the operational pressure it is under [and] the fear that the pressure exerted by the IDF will increase.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas