How to Save the U.S.-Saudi Alliance

Yesterday, Saudi Arabia hosted a meeting attended by the national security advisers of the U.S., the United Arab Emirates, and India, where the agenda reportedly included an Israeli proposal for the construction of a rail network connecting the Middle East. The summit was a rare positive sign given the growing estrangement between Washington and Riyadh over the past decade. Among the reasons for that estrangement is the kingdom’s perception of the U.S. as on unreliable ally—a perception fueled by a growing American consensus that focus must be turned away from the Middle East and toward confronting China.

Bradley Bowman, Orde Kittrie, and Ryan Brobst examine the pitfalls of such thinking:

The primary effect [of concern over China] has been to incentivize decision makers in Washington to minimize the investment of finite military resources in the Middle East so that the Department of Defense can conduct its belated and vital modernization effort and better deter aggression in the Indo-Pacific. This impulse is grounded in sound strategic thinking. The essence of strategy, after all, is the coordination of ends and means and the realization that resources are not infinite.

[Yet the] problem with some of the arguments in favor of deeper cuts to U.S. military posture in the Middle East is that they fail to recognize that U.S. competition with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is unfolding around the globe, including in the Middle East. The great irony, therefore, is that while the United States is pulling military forces out of the Middle East to compete with the PRC, Beijing is increasingly moving into the Middle East. Indeed, if additional American forces depart the region, those smiling and waving goodbye most enthusiastically, other than perhaps the Iranians, will be the Chinese. The primary flow of personnel from Beijing to the Middle East has consisted of diplomats and businesspeople, but Chinese arms sales and security cooperation in the region are increasing.

More specifically, that includes growing coziness between Riyadh and Beijing. Yet Bowman, Kittrie, and Brobst are confident that smart policy can reverse these trends, and keep the Saudis firmly in the American camp:

[I]t seems unlikely that Riyadh has made an irreversible decision to break with the United States and to align fully with Beijing. Instead, Riyadh may be pursuing a strategy to foster substantive relations with both Washington and Beijing while using growing ties with Beijing to elicit maximum concessions from the United States—all the while maintaining the strategic partnership with Washington.

Read more at FDD

More about: China, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy

How Israel Can Break the Cycle of Wars in Gaza

Last month saw yet another round of fighting between the Jewish state and Gaza-based terrorist groups. This time, it was Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that began the conflict; in other cases, it was Hamas, which rules the territory. Such outbreaks have been numerous in the years since 2009, and although the details have varied somewhat, Israel has not yet found a way to stop them, or to save the residents of the southwestern part of the country from the constant threat of rocket fire. Yossi Kuperwasser argues that a combination of military, economic, and diplomatic pressure might present an alternative solution:

In Gaza, Jerusalem plays a key role in developing the rules that determine what the parties can and cannot do. Such rules are designed to give the Israelis the ability to deter attacks, defend territory, maintain intelligence dominance, and win decisively. These rules assure Hamas that its rule over Gaza will not be challenged and that, in between the rounds of escalation, it will be allowed to continue its military buildup, as the Israelis seldom strike first, and the government’s responses to Hamas’s limited attacks are always measured and proportionate.

The flaws in such an approach are clear: it grants Hamas the ability to develop its offensive capabilities, increase its political power, and condemn Israelis—especially those living within range of the Gaza Strip—to persistent threats from Hamas terrorists.

A far more effective [goal] would be to rid Israel of Hamas’s threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests. Achieving this goal will not be easy, but with proper preparation, it may be feasible at the appropriate time.

Revisiting the rule according to which Jerusalem remains tacitly committed to not ending Hamas rule in Gaza is key for changing the dynamics of this conflict. So long as Hamas knows that the Israelis will not attempt to uproot it from Gaza, it can continue arming itself and conducting periodic attacks knowing the price it will pay may be heavy—especially if Jerusalem changes the other rules mentioned—but not existential.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israeli Security, Palestinian Islamic Jihad