U.S. President seeks new allies against Russia
Joe Biden will make his first Middle East tour as President of the United States July 13-16, visiting Israel, the Palestinian-controlled West Bank Jordan River, and then go to Saudi Arabia. During the visit, the American leader intends to restore relations between Riyadh and Washington and reduce oil prices. It is believed that the landmark visit of the head of state will play into the hands of the newly minted Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
Already this week, Joe Biden will make his first official visit to the Middle East as President of the United States. The US president will begin his landmark tour with a visit to Israel and, in particular, a meeting with the country's recently-became prime minister, Yair Lapid. Then the American leader is going to visit the West Bank of the Jordan River to hold talks with the head of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas.
Over the weekend, the Israeli prime minister moved with his wife to Jerusalem and settled in a villa on Balfour Street, located not far from the official residence of the head of government. The house where the Lapid couple temporarily settled is usually inhabited by the Prime Minister's bodyguards. However, such an unusual place of residence was not chosen by the politician by chance.
The Prime Minister's official residence is currently under renovation. Yair Lapid did not want to repeat the story of his predecessor Naftali Bennet and turn his private apartment in Ramat Aviv (a district in Tel Aviv) into a spare residence. And the point is not at all in Lapid's irresistible desire to live and work in Jerusalem.
Any conversion of housing into a kind of prime minister's residence – event is expensive. Opposition representatives cannot forget the story of the 50 million shekels allegedly costing the state to renovate Naftali Bennett's private house in Ra'anana.
However, a more significant motive in this regard is the desire of Yair Lapid to fix in the minds of citizens as quickly and firmly as possible the fact that he is the head of the Israeli government.
To do something real for the country in the days remaining before the elections in Lapid is unlikely to succeed in Israel for four months. Therefore, now the new prime minister can only focus his attention on loud statements and meetings with world leaders.
And in this regard, Biden's Middle East tour came in handy. Of course, there is a chance that the US President's visit will not bring the desired results. But even without obvious results, the very meeting with the American leader could form the basis of Lapid's election campaign.
The fact that Biden largely continued the extremely pro-Israeli policy of his predecessor Donald Trump, who recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moved the American embassy there and at the same time closed the country’s consulate that worked with the Palestinians, also plays into the hands of the new prime minister. It was under Trump that the financial aid to Palestine was actually nullified. In addition, in August 2020, Washington mediated the “Abraham Accords” between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to normalize relations, which later included Sudan and Morocco.
Although Trump did not rule out the creation of a Palestinian state, his policies still seriously undermined this possibility. For example, his administration effectively rejected a decade of United States policy by pointing out that Israeli settlements in the West Bank did not violate international law.
For their part, Biden and his team restored most of the funding for the Palestinians and a direct diplomatic channel to communicate with them. At the same time, the current head of state did not reopen the consulate, did not return the American embassy to Tel Aviv, did not cancel the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital, and did not cancel the settlement decision (although the Biden administration spoke out against the expansion of Jewish settlements).
The White House also sees Israel as a critical ally in the Middle East, where there are currently thousands of US troops facing threats from Iran and Islamist extremist organizations. Developing cooperation between the Israelis and the US Arab partners is an obvious way to reduce these threats.
However, some Western leaders and even a number of current U.S. officials have condemned the Biden administration's overzealous curtsy towards Israel, whose actions against the Palestinians are now called “crimes of apartheid” by leading human rights groups, Politico reports. In addition, Israel's reluctance to openly ally with the “collective West” against Russia, after the start of a special operation against Ukraine, also attracted the special attention of Western states.
Already on July 15, Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia. He has already boasted that he will be the first American leader to fly directly from Tel Aviv to the Saudi city of Jeddah, where the Gulf Cooperation Council is expected to meet.
Relations between Washington and Riyadh reached a historic low after the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 (which is blamed on the kingdom's intelligence agencies) and the war in Yemen. However, the crisis in the world oil markets is pushing the American leader to reset relations with Saudi Arabia, which he once threatened to turn into a “rogue state”.
Biden promised to reconsider relations with Riyadh shortly before joining to the presidency of the United States. Ahead of his Middle East tour, the American leader even wrote in an op-ed for the American newspaper The Washington Post that “from the very beginning, his goal was to reorient, but not sever, relations with the Gulf state, which has been a strategic partner of the United States for 80 years.”
In addition, Biden stressed that his meeting with the leaders of Saudi Arabia is crucial, including for advancing American efforts to counter Russia and oust China.
“I know that many do not agree with my decision to go to Saudi Arabia,” the president said. – My job as president is to keep our country strong and secure.
To accomplish these tasks, Biden said, the United States needs to engage directly with the states that can influence this Exodus. And one of these countries – just Saudi Arabia.
Experts are confident that this visit will determine whether Biden can make progress on the oil issue and the establishment of regional relations. The American leader needs at least minimal success to justify his turn on Saudi Arabia to his critics, including from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.