Biden Strengthens Middle East Defense Strategy – OpEd – Eurasia Review

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A once-top-secret multinational meeting of military leaders in March 2022 formed the basis for talks held by US President Joe Biden during his July 13-16, 2022 visit to the Middle East.

A clandestine meeting of US, Israeli and Arab military chiefs remained classified for three months. Then on June 26th the Wall Street Journal released exclusive, revealing details of a meeting hosted by the US in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt last March, which appeared to have included military leaders from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain . According to the report, they had met in secret to explore ways to coordinate a joint response to Iran‘s growing missile and drone capabilities.

As the WSJ pointed out, these talks marked the first time such a line-up of senior Israeli and Arab officers had met under US military auspices to discuss how to defend themselves and each other against a common threat.

A look at the participants gives an idea that something new can also be noted on the regional scene – the positive effect that the Abraham Agreement has on expanding the idea of ​​normalization in the moderate Arab world. The idea of ​​sitting at the table with Israelis no longer seems out of the question, even though Qatar and Saudi Arabia have no formal diplomatic ties with Israel. On the contrary, it is becoming increasingly clear to Arab leaders that the combination of Israel’s hi-tech capabilities in a variety of fields will bring them tremendous advantages that would otherwise not be available to them.

For example, following a series of drone strikes by Iran or its proxies on oil facilities and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Arab countries seem increasingly interested in gaining access to sophisticated Israeli air defense technology. One such, conducted in September 2019, was claimed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. It hit an Aramco compound in Saudi Arabia, shutting down about 5 percent of world oil production and wreaking havoc on financial markets. A Hezbollah-led three-drone attack against Israel’s Karish oil rig in the Mediterranean on July 2 was shot down by the IDF.

During his visit, Biden attended a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) joined by leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. Undoubtedly, the regional security threat posed by Iran and its proxies was on the agenda.

According to media reports, participants in the March meeting discussed which armed forces in the country would intercept drone, ballistic or cruise missile attacks. They agreed in principle to coordinate rapid notification systems when aerial threats are detected, but apparently agreed that for the time being, instead of setting up a US-style military data-sharing system, alerts will be sent via phones and computers.

During his time in Saudi Arabia, Biden announced further moves in the warming relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel, most notably the opening of Saudi skies to commercial flights through Israel. A fact sheet issued by the White House following its formal meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) lists thirteen areas in which the US has pledged closer cooperation with the Kingdom, including energy security and clean energy, cybersecurity, space exploration, maritime security and air defense .

Since shortly after the 1978 Camp David Accords, US troops have served as peacekeepers on the island of Tiran as part of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) as part of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Five Americans were killed in a helicopter crash on the island in 2020. The White House announced that arrangements have been made to remove the MFO peacekeeping forces and that Saudi should open up this area for tourism, development and peaceful purposes.

Visits by US presidents to Israel could almost be considered routine (six did so, some more than once), but Biden’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia has long been in the balance. The fact that it is moving forward is a sign of the importance Washington attaches to it. In light of the Khashoggi affair, liberal opinion in the US is outraged at the idea of ​​Biden shaking hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

On the afternoon of October 2, 2018, journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of MBS, entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, never to reappear. After listening to alleged recordings of conversations at the consulate made by Turkish intelligence, a UN special rapporteur concluded that the journalist was “brutally killed” inside the building by a team of 15 Saudi agents and his body had then been dismembered.

Khashoggi’s murder has sparked outrage around the world. US intelligence concluded that the Crown Prince, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, had approved the operation. MBS denied playing any role. A year after the murder, a Saudi court found five people guilty of direct involvement in the murder and sentenced them to death. The sentences were later commuted to 20 years in prison. Three others received reduced sentences for covering up the crime. While Turkey has signed its involvement in the case and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and MBS have exchanged visits, liberal opinion in the West refuses to accept the Saudi court result and continues to blame MBS for the assassination.

At his meeting with MBS, Biden raised the Khashoggi issue, and under the heading, “Underlining Human Rights Concerns,” the pamphlet said that he “received commitments on reform and institutional safeguards to prevent such behavior in the future.” . ”

Finally, under the heading “Integrated Air Defense Cooperation”, the White House fact sheets state: “In particular, the United States is committed to advancing a more integrated and regionally networked air and missile defense architecture and to countering the proliferation of unmanned aerial systems and missiles to non-state actors who… threaten the peace and security of the region.”

In other words, the secret meeting in Sharm-el-Sheikh in March 2022 practically set the agenda for this aspect of the presidential visit.

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