There is a strong whiff of gas, oil and gunpowder hanging over Biden’s trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, two countries which have started, in a discreet manner, on the path of the anti-Iran Abrahamic Accords, already set up between some Arab monarchies and the Jewish state.
It’s the same whiff (weapons excluded) that can be felt in the air with the sudden visit to Rome and the Vatican of Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian: an attempt by Italian diplomacy to regain a modicum of initiative after Draghi’s bow to Sultan Erdogan.
But now it’s Biden’s turn to take his bow.
In his case, bow before the assassin prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS): beyond the rhetoric about the much-touted Western values, our actual diet is heavy doses of realpolitik and cynicism every day. The war in Ukraine and the crisis in energy supplies from Russia have set in motion a contradictory diplomacy that does not stop conflicts, does not (yet) lift sanctions on Tehran, but gets very agitated for one simple reason: Western economic survival and the political survival of its leaders.
Biden himself explained, in an article in the Washington Post, why he is going to meet with MBS, the instigator of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whom Biden himself had ostracized by calling him a “pariah.”
“We have to counter Russia’s aggression, put ourselves in the best possible position to outcompete China, and work for greater stability in a consequential region of the world. To do these things, we have to engage directly with countries that can impact those outcomes. Saudi Arabia is one of them,” the president wrote in the same newspaper where Khashoggi used to publish his articles, before he was hacked to pieces in 2018 inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The real meaning: U.S. citizens are now paying over $5 for a gallon (3.8 liters) of gasoline and are heading into the midterm elections in uncertainty as the U.S. – and Europe even more so – expects a winter in which the break with Russia will create energy shortages, inflation and unemployment.
A perfect storm is brewing over the Western world, while states such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, while condemning the aggression on Ukraine, have been careful not to impose sanctions on Moscow, and in the case of Riyadh have not questioned either their military agreements with Putin or Russian participation in Opec+, the historic oil cartel that for now is holding back significant production increases and contributing to soaring energy prices.
The White House leader is aiming for a substantial increase in oil production by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies in an effort to cool down prices and inflation ahead of the midterm congressional elections, in which the Democratic Party faces the prospect of a serious defeat.
Biden’s trip is so critical that it will be accompanied by a gesture that is both concrete and symbolic.
On Friday, July 15, after a visit to East Jerusalem and the Territories, Biden will leave Ben Gurion Airport to land directly in Saudi Arabia: the first flight by a U.S. president from Israel to an Arab state not recognized by its Middle Eastern ally.
Landing in Jeddah, Biden will attend the Gulf Cooperation Council (expanded to include Egypt, Iraq and Jordan). Here is where he will have the face-to-face with the elderly King Salman, in which the shadowy Prince MBS, found to be the instigator of the Khashoggi murder by U.S. intelligence, will also participate.
Biden’s backtracking on the prince should be framed within the horizon of the Abrahamic Accords that helped reshape the Middle East.
The arrangement signed in 2020 between Israel, the Emirates and Bahrain (later joined by Morocco) received the blessing of Riyadh, which, however, has not wanted to become part of it yet, despite strong pressure from then-President Trump and the expectations of the Jewish state itself.
In recent weeks, ahead of Biden’s mission, there has been talk in the press of a “road map for normalization” of Israel-Saudi relations, on which the U.S. would be committed to working. Starting with Washington’s mediation between Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt for the transfer of sovereignty from Cairo to Riyadh over two strategic islands in the Red Sea, Tritan and Sanifar, with the green light from the Jewish state. And there is also work on an agreement that would allow Israel to use Saudi airspace for flights to India and China and direct flights between the two countries for Muslim pilgrims.
But that’s nothing compared to the chapter on armaments and strategic agreements. In late June, Defense Minister Benny Gantz revealed that Israel is committed, with U.S. support, to the creation of a ”Middle East Air Defense Alliance,” already partly operational, to strengthen cooperation with Arab countries against Iran.
That’s why interim PM Yair Lapid and Arab monarchs are rolling out the red carpet to Biden: they expect new weapons, anti-missile systems, anti-drone systems and fighter systems from the US. To be deployed against Iran, but also against Hezbollah (Israel) and the Yemeni Houthis (Saudi Arabia), all allies of Tehran, considered a threat for its nuclear programs and whom Israel, the regional policeman, is keeping in its crosshairs by taking out Iranian scientists and generals.
The peculiar fact is that in the West we consider all of this legal, as well as the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories – without ever applying sanctions to the Jewish state. If bin Salman gets away with murdering Khashoggi, Israel will get away with killing al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin.
Palestinians hoped for clear condemnation from Washington, while the State Department concluded that the reporter was killed by soldiers “but not intentionally,” an evasive and unsatisfactory formula. And so it goes, with one bow before the prince, one before the Sultan and another before Israel – always in the name of “Western values,” of course.