Skip to main content

Middle East

Biden’s radical plan for the Middle East

Biden with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last year. Anadolu Agency/Getty

Last week, says Thomas Friedman in The New York Times, Joe Biden sent two of his top advisors to Riyadh to hash out the details of a “big Middle East deal”. The idea is that the US would sign a mutual security pact with Saudi Arabia, which would in turn normalise relations with Israel – but only if officials in Jerusalem commit to resuming talks with the Palestinians. This would force Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition of “Jewish supremacists” to choose between annexing the West Bank, or having “peace with Saudi Arabia and the whole Muslim world”. However radical the Israeli government seems, it can’t risk ostracising both the US and the entire Islamic community by opting for the former. It’s a canny plan – one that could be a “game changer” for the Middle East.

It’s certainly intriguing, says Fred Kaplan in Slate, but the deal would have a “terrible impact” on Biden’s broader foreign policy. To justify support for Ukraine and strategic competition with China, the US president has repeatedly described world politics as a “contest between democracy and authoritarianism”. This rationale would “implode” if the US formally allies itself with a country ranked in one democracy index “between Libya and Uzbekistan”. Even more dangerous is that the Saudis are demanding nuclear technology – for “peaceful” purposes, of course. If the mullahs in Iran believe their “mortal enemies in Riyadh” have Washington’s blessing for an atomic project, they’ll no doubt ramp up their own nuclear programme and tighten bonds with Russia and China. It could well “trigger a new Cold War” – one that, given the number of nuclear powers involved, would be even more “complex and dangerous” than the first.