In the Middle East, conflicts are rarely addressed directly. You have to read between the lines. Before Joe Biden left for the region this week, his staff let it be known that the US President would not shake hands because of Corona. In Israel, however, he did this extensively and even distributed kisses on the cheeks.
The Corona hint was more of an excuse not to have to shake hands with a certain person: Mohammed bin Salman, MBS for short, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. During the election campaign, Biden promised to make MBS a “leper” because he allegedly had Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi murdered. But now the Ukraine war is driving up gas prices and Russia is threatening to overtake the US in influence in the Middle East.
Vladimir Putin is expected in the region next week, and Iran wants to supply Russia with drones. The US President is therefore trying to reactivate old allies and is approaching Saudi Arabia, but is trying to dress up his about-face.
Therefore, no public handshake with MBS, from which he wants two things: more oil production so that gas prices fall. And a Saudi rapprochement with Israel so he can forge an alliance against Russia and Iran.
There has been a lot of talk lately of a “NATO of the Middle East”. It is Israel’s dream to form a defense alliance against Iran together with Arab states. The Shia regime’s nuclear program, its support of terrorist militias, and its drones are a common threat to the Jewish state and the Sunni Gulf.
Israel signed the Abraham Peace Accords with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. It has no relations with Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s main opponent, even though it secretly exchanges intelligence information. Biden wants to change that. Because more cooperation in the region would relieve the USA, which wants to concentrate on other regions of the world.
The US President took a small step towards that on this trip. Saudi Arabia announced during its visit that it will grant Israel overflight rights in the future. Although it didn’t name Israel directly – you had to read between the lines. Approaches to the Jewish state are unpopular in the Saudi kingdom.
For the Emirates, too, the idea of a “Middle East NATO” goes too far. Before meeting Biden, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan spoke of a “theoretical concept”. You will not join any alliance that seeks confrontation with Iran – but want to participate in everything that protects the country from drones and missiles.