The landing of China in the Gulf and the withdrawal of the United States puts Arab-Israeli relations at risk

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman receives Chinese President Xi Jinping in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 8, 2022. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS (Bandar Algaloud/Saudi Royal Cour/)

During the time of the ex-president’s administration donald trumpin the year 2020, the “Abraham Accords” between four Arab states and the State of Israel emerged as a breakthrough that would put an end to several years of non-existent relations and they were the hope for a new era on the political map of the Middle East.

The expectation of regional analysts to project which Arab-Islamic nation would become the next signatory of the aforementioned agreements was great, optimism was the vector in the diplomatic dialogues of those days. Unfortunately, however, the expected diplomatic advances did not continue, the draft of a new regional map showed that Washington decided to withdraw as a mediator, and expectations faded over time.

The new administration of President Joe Biden began to disengage and withdraw from the region, a first indication was the disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan, also the lack of response to two Iranian missile attacks whose targets were strategic Saudi oil facilities were perceived with disappointment towards the administration Biden for the Gulf countries. That lack of American reaction sent a negative message to the Sunni Gulf states, which interpreted the United States as no longer the reliable partner of the Trump administration years and held back the possibility of other Gulf states joining the Abraham Accords as it was expected in Tel Aviv and in Riyadh.

Notwithstanding his good will, the management priorities of the first year of the Biden administration did not help in terms of expanding the Abraham Accords, his officials did not advance in diplomacy, hence Republican sectors criticize this management alleging that the Democratic government He acted that way to discredit the previous administration.

However, in the last three months, the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken He has made a sharp turn in the administration’s position and is now showing enthusiastic backing for the deals in the hope of reaching out and luring the Saudis to join in the second half of this year. This is seen by US analysts as a functional strategy to show President Biden’s achievements in that region at a time when he launches his campaign to be re-elected in 2024. However, those more knowledgeable of the events taking place in the Gulf and the Middle East they observe that Blinken’s rapprochement with the Saudi Kingdom not only has to do with Biden’s presidential campaign, but also aims to prevent Riyadh and other Sunni Arab capitals from deepening their relations with China, a player that has established a foothold in the region both politically, in economics and military technology.

The truth is that the Saudi Kingdom did not hide its interest in normalizing relations with Israel, in fact it has been the mentor that promoted and supported the agreements of the other Sunni nations that have already done so. However, the Saudi diplomats demand that Washington apply firmer policies in terms of neutralizing terrorism in the Palestinian territories since, as leaders of the Arab world, the Saudis see in Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad a problem to be solved to the extent that their opponent Shia (Iran) supports those groups.

The Kingdom has also set a condition for Washington to advance in a rapprochement and agreement with Israel. In that sense, The Saudis requested US help to develop a civilian nuclear program and lift current restrictions on the acquisition of advanced US weapons and equipment.

The general belief within the Arab world is that full normalization with Israel inside or outside the framework of the Abraham Accords has little or no chance of success as long as king salman -father of the Crown Prince-, continue on the throne, the reason is that the monarch is historically committed -although moderately- to the Palestinian cause. Instead the crown prince Mohamed Bin Salman It has a more modern vision and although it has not denied aid to the Palestinian people, it does not look favorably on the fact that the armed organizations in Gaza take advantage of Saudi aid. The Crown Prince’s plans cast a ten-year vision in which Saudi Arabia should partner unrestrainedly with industry and innovative technology at Israel’s disposal.

In the direction of the ideas and plans of the Crown Prince, Israel and the United States should work to achieve gradual normalization so that ties are strengthened, even without the requirement that this normalization be signed in a separate agreement or in line similar to the Abraham Accords; Saudi Arabia is much more relevant in all respects compared to the other Abraham signatories and diplomatic efforts should not be lacking to foster relations that will surely change the equation in the Middle East if normalization is achieved.

With Saudi Arabia in a deal, Oman will have no fears or reservations about joining the Saudis. Omanis feel they are the primary targets of Tehran’s revolutionary plans. Hence the importance for Washington and Tel Aviv of joint meetings with Saudi and Omani officials.

Arab sources from Gulf countries have told Infobae under confidentiality that these steps could be possible for the initial search for a normalization of relations with Israel, although the alternative would be not to locate this normalization within the Abraham Accords.

The Israelis have already said so publicly, they have no problem supporting technological and scientific development in places like Oman and therefore do not expect political relations to come first. Israel had business offices in Oman and Qatar in the past. Oman closed the Israeli trade office in September 2000 when the Second Palestinian Intifada broke out, and the Qataris also closed theirs in 2007. Omanis once welcomed their former sultan meeting PM Yitzhak Rabin in 1994 and also with Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018, and unlike the Qataris, they showed strong interest in approaching and establishing relations with Israel.

There is no doubt that the path that paves the opening of relations with Israel requires different strategies and different policies for each Arab nation. But neither can there be any doubt that all the approaches will agree that the normalization of relations will benefit the Arab countries in different areas, mainly in economic matters. However, the fundamental element in relations in the region is “trust”, something that the Saudis evaluate as a condition sine quanon to improve its relationship with the United States, but Riyadh still has misgivings about the Biden administration due to different signals that Washington has given in these three years; particularly in the stalemate over the Iranian nuclear program, which according to the Saudis has been and is dangerously negative and is in line with the US withdrawal from the region, which also allowed – according to the Sunni Arab nations – a dangerous strengthening of Iran.

What worries the Gulf Arabs is that unlike the days of the Donald Trump presidency, today they perceive that the Biden administration is not considered a potent military threat to its enemies and this played a decisive role in the loss of confidence towards Washington, which has undermined the desire of the Gulf states to align with Israel against the Iranians. There must be understood the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement mediated by China. Although the Saudis know that this is not a definitive or permanent solution to the differences between the two.

The Arabs and Israel are watching to see if President Biden will actually draw “a red line” to move against a nuclear Iran. If that does not happen, US foreign policy interests risk being diluted in the Middle East, instability will increase, and the rifts will deepen. So the Saudis and their Sunni partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCCG) will be pushed into the arms of Beijing in the absence of action by President Biden, and if that happens, there will be no plausible path to new economic deals. of security or of any kind between Arabs and Israelis. That could happen when there is a proactive change in which the American leadership decides to return to a region that needs its presence to maintain the stability and prosperity of its historical partners.

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