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

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security