This week’s meeting in the Saudi red sea resort of Neom was a clear indication that Riyadh has now accepted, Joe Biden will become the next US President on 20 January, and Saudi Arabia is concerned what that may mean.
There is a very negative attitude in Congress towards the Saudi Kingdom and a great deal of that dislike comes from the Democrats.
Congressmen and women on all sides of the House and Senate recall the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on 2 October 2018. They are aware of the huge loss of human life in the war in Yemen, including hundreds of children. And they cannot ignore the many years of Saudi human rights abuses.
Democrats have been saying for a long time that these “difficulties” are a major concern for America, and therefore Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) this week took action, by signalling that he is looking for a new relationship with a Democrat President in the next 4 years.
Even though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, under the leadership of Donald Trump, initiated the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, MDS clearly had a focus of convincing Biden and his new administration, that Saudi is willing to change its image. This comes after Joe Biden has spoken about reassessing the relationship with Saudi Arabia.
The Kingdom therefore sent signals that they wish to continue the positive momentum of normalisation with Israel, and that they are willing to play a constructive role in the region. Saudi will even change its foreign policy, political strategy and introduce more human rights reforms, if America is willing to become “a more-friendly USA” towards the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia will even delay any signing of agreements with Israel until Biden takes office, if that’s what it takes.
King Salman is still very much in charge of Saudi. But it is his son that has been instrumental in closer ties with Israel. The King would have preferred to move slower and is not in favour of the current close relationship with Israel, but his son, MBS insists the matter is urgent.
With a new Democrat administration, Saudi knows that Israel is still very influential in Washington. They are looking to Israel to blunt some of the anti-Saudi steps that Washington may have lined up. Israel therefore has to think very carefully about how far it can go with Saudi, as the Kingdom is not very popular in the western world, because of its human rights record.
But the meeting took place under the influence of Mike Pompeo to complete some important matters on the ground before Trump leaves office. Iran has been flying under the radar for a long time, violating the JCPOA agreement signed in July 2015, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Several experts across the Middle East now believe Iran is just months away from attaining a nuclear weapon.
The security and economic partnership between America and Saudi Arabia has been strong under the Trump administration. But Biden has hinted he would re-join the Iran Accords. On this issue, Israel, Saudi, UAE, Bahrain, Omar, Qatar and others agree wholeheartedly that Iran’s missile program and becoming a nuclear power must be stopped at all costs.
In the last week, American B52 bombers have arrived in the region and the meeting between Pompeo, Netanyahu and the Crown Prince may have been a discussion, about a military strike on Iran. The Saudis would welcome this to counter malign Iranian influence in the Gulf. But they certainly don’t want a full scale war, because Saudi are in the line of fire and Iran would definitely retaliate.
News of the secret talks were leaked to the Israeli media last Monday morning. A top senior Israeli government official noted that while Riyadh initially agreed that a leak should be made to the media, it broke in Israel much earlier than planned.
Netanyahu refused to confirm the meeting even though a Minister described the summit as “an amazing achievement.” But the Prime Minister kept the secret talks from his Foreign and Defence Ministers, both from the Blue and White party, as there will almost certainly be a general election in early 2021 and these close ties with Arab states will likely benefit Netanyahu.
Netanyahu has delivered more peace deals and “understandings” with Arab states than any other Israeli leader. But even though Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lord David Trimble nominated Netanyahu and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, they and Donald Trump will no doubt be passed over for the Peace Prize when Obama and Arafat were honoured for much less.
James Marlow is a news broadcast commentator and communications trainer Email: James@TheCommunicationBureau.com Twitter: @James_J_Marlow