U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan arrive for a Joint Ministerial Meeting of the GCC-U.S. Strategic Partnership in Riyadh on April 29, 2024

Fayez Nuresdine/AFP via Getty Images

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Biden’s Phony Saudi-Israeli Peace Deal

The point of the U.S. deal isn’t peace. It’s to prevent the two American allies from coming together, while subordinating them both to Iran.

Lee Smith
June 27, 2024
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan arrive for a Joint Ministerial Meeting of the GCC-U.S. Strategic Partnership in Riyadh on April 29, 2024

Fayez Nuresdine/AFP via Getty Images

For more than a year the Joe Biden administration has been parading what it calls a “historic agreement” in front of longtime U.S. regional allies Israel and Saudi Arabia. If it seems odd that a president who called Saudi a “pariah” state, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an “asshole” now sees Jerusalem and Riyadh as the ingredients for a major foreign policy win in an election year, that’s because the agreement on offer is not a Middle East peace deal. Rather, it’s an instrument to consolidate the Democratic Party’s control of U.S. foreign policy while formally subordinating its two longtime Middle Eastern allies to Iran.

The Biden administration’s regional policy is charged with completing the project initiated by Barack Obama. The endgame is to fold traditional U.S. partners into a new Middle East hierarchy dominated by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its terror proxies, including Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen. The new American-backed, Iranian-led regional order requires breaking Israeli sovereignty and getting Saudi to accept revisions to its 80-year-old relationship with Washington. While Netanyahu is resisting the yoke, the Saudis seem to be willing to submit in the hope that it won’t be too late to revise their status again when, or if, Trump returns.

“The deal buys time,” says a Riyadh-based senior Gulf affairs analyst who asked not to be named. “A year or two gives the Crown Prince time to work on his agenda for Saudi Arabia.” And in the meantime, says the analyst, “if you can reach a deal with the Democrats, you take it. The Republicans are already Saudi allies. But to make a deal with them means the Democrats will give you a hard time. The thinking here is that if you want to do a deal with the U.S., you have to do it with the Democrats.”

To realize Obama’s dream of regional realignment, the Biden team first zeroed in on the Trump-brokered normalization agreements between Israel and four majority Muslim states (Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Sudan) known as the Abraham Accords. The Trump team had reversed Obama’s pro-Iran policies and isolated the terror regime, while freezing out its Palestinian proxies. Plus, Trump eliminated Iranian terror masters like Qassem Soleimani who had targeted U.S. troops, diplomats, and allied nations in a decadeslong campaign of bombings and assassinations.

The new boss is renegotiating the old agreement. The Saudi deal is no longer with America, it’s with Obama and his faction, the New America.

Trump’s approach brought an unprecedented degree of peace and cooperation to the modern Middle East after the upheavals of the Arab Spring, the Syrian war, the civil war in Yemen, Hamas attacks on Israel, sectarian warfare in Iraq, and other bloody events fueled by Obama’s revisionist policies. Yet a regional order based on isolating Iran was anathema to the Biden team, many of them former Obama aides who returned to the White House eager to restore the Iranians and Palestinians to center stage, and push the Saudis and Israelis to the wings.

That’s where the idea of the Saudi-Israel deal came in. Contrary to what Biden media validators claim, it was never meant to expand the Abraham Accords, but rather to collapse them, for the purpose of making Iran first.

The prospective Saudi-Israeli deal that Biden is purporting to broker is usually portrayed as something like a three-way trade, with everyone walking away with something they want: If Israel agrees to a Palestinian state, it gets a normalization agreement with the Saudis, who win a defense and security compact with the White House, whose occupant enjoys a big election-year foreign policy win. And best of all, say Biden officials, the deal checks Iran.

But that’s not true. A closer look shows that the point of the deal is to advance Iranian and Palestinian interests, while collapsing Netanyahu’s governing coalition and convincing the Saudis that the only power that can protect them from Iran is the very same U.S. political faction that legalized Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Obama’s faction.

Saudi interest in expanding its ties to Israel is founded on the idea that Israel was the only regional power strong enough to stand up to Iran and hopefully eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat. It rested on a shared Saudi and Israeli view that Iran was a serious threat and that a nuclear Iran would be an even greater threat—and that both countries had a vital interest in mitigating, or eradicating, the Iranian threat.

But the Biden White House, in line with Obama’s preferences, had the opposite goal: to gain Saudi acquiescence to Iranian primacy. To do that, Team Biden replaced the very real Iranian threat with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The purpose was to rearrange the place settings and put the Saudis and Israelis on opposite ends of the table.

Using the Palestinians as a spoiler is nothing new, of course: That has been their role in the region since they rejected partition in 1948. During the Cold War, anti-U.S. revisionist powers regularly used the Palestinian cause to undermine Riyadh, the oil-producing cornerstone of the Pax Americana, and thus by extension America itself. The Saudis, according to the anti-U.S. regimes, are nothing but quislings, Zionist stooges. So, within Arab company, the Saudis must at least pay lip service to Palestinian statehood, especially when the American president publicly links them for the first time in history to the Palestinians’ hated enemy. By using the Palestinians as a spoiler, the Biden team took a page out of the anti-U.S. regime handbook, thereby strengthening the Iranians’ position and knocking the Saudis off balance.

At the same time, the administration was also preparing a noose for Netanyahu. Maybe he really wanted the deal with Saudi, though it’s still not clear what Riyadh can offer Jerusalem except photo ops, water desalination joint venture projects, and unfulfillable vows to steer the global umma toward perhaps maybe tolerating a Jewish state in the middle of a Muslim-majority region. But since Netanyahu’s coalition partners reject any negotiations regarding a Palestinian state, it was clear that accepting the Biden administration’s conditions would collapse his government. The administration turned up the pressure by promoting his rivals Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz and fueling a hostile U.S.-Israel media campaign to corner Bibi.

But the administration miscalculated. There is little support in post-Oct. 7 Israel for treating with a terror enclave whose civilian population mobilized to rape, torture, and murder Israeli families. No one in Israel thinks responding to Oct. 7 by leaving Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip—let alone the West Bank—is a sensible idea. Gantz’s recent withdrawal from the government after a stunningly bold Israeli operation to rescue four hostages, and his subsequent drop in public opinion polls, underscores the failure of the Biden administration’s ongoing campaign to unseat Netanyahu.

Still, the White House will doubtless continue to find other mechanisms to cripple the Israelis and rescue Hamas. Whether the Biden team had foreknowledge of Hamas’ operation, as increasingly seems to be the case, the fact is that in the aftermath it very quickly saw the carnage as an opportunity not to rethink its destructive policies but to double down on them.

The mass murder of civilians, including foreign workers, showcased what might happen, or continue to happen, to U.S. partners if they didn’t agree to be absorbed into Obama’s pro-Iran realignment policy. After Iran’s missile and drone strike on Israel in April, the White House strictly limited Israel’s ability to retaliate. And if Netanyahu and his war cabinet colored outside the lines, Biden officials threatened, maybe the air defense systems that swatted away Iran’s barrage wouldn’t work so well next time.

While the administration’s antics don’t seem to have changed Israeli thinking, they do appear to have made an impression on the Saudis, who seem as willing as ever to have the White House’s performative promises of protection.

“If anything happens to Saudi there are now guarantees,” says the Gulf analyst, even as he admits no one in Riyadh really knows what the deal means in practice. Most likely, what’s on offer from Washington more or less resembles what Obama offered in 2015 as he was closing the Iran deal—a big arms sale and vague assurances to protect the Saudis from the regime whose nuclear program Obama legalized. The crucial point—in fact, the tell—is that what Obama offered Riyadh a decade ago, and Biden is now, is what the Saudis already have.

Since the start of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, going back to the tail end of WWII, Washington’s role has been to protect Saudi while the kingdom pumps cheap oil to keep global energy markets stable, thereby ensuring America’s peace and prosperity. Even with the Cold War ended, George H.W. Bush kept America’s promise and dispatched U.S. forces to push Saddam out of Kuwait and defend Saudi oil fields.

It’s not lost on the Saudis that Biden, like Obama before him, has conspicuously failed to uphold the American side of the bargain. Instead, the White House has turned a blind eye to Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists firing on Red Sea shipping. “No one trusts Biden,” says the Gulf analyst. But the White House wants the Saudis to scream uncle and ante up. For starters, Saudi can expect to be billed for reconstructing the ruins of Gaza, and southern Lebanon.

The White House isn’t just reselling the Saudis the same carpet they’ve already owned for the last 80 years. No, the new boss is renegotiating the old agreement. The Saudi deal is no longer with America, it’s with Obama and his faction, the New America, different, better, progressive. It’s Obama’s carpet now.

The White House’s obsessive attention to detail in restructuring the Middle East suggests that the Iran realignment strategy wasn’t devised to facilitate America’s military exit from the region, leaving Tehran as the strong horse to curate U.S. interests there. No, it means more empire not less. Thus, U.S. troops are in Iraq and Syria to protect Iranian allies and proxies—Iranian “equities,” as Obama put it.

Realignment is the diplomatic instrument ensuring the rise of America’s new progressive empire. In the progressive imperial vision, Saudi, the world’s gas station, is climate change’s ground zero. Israel is the ur settler-colonial ethno-nationalist state, run by Jews. Both need to be integrated into Obama’s new regional architecture. By giving Iran an American badge, realignment is a road map for regionwide conflagration, and a projection of the ongoing efforts to transform America at home.

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