Last Sunday, high-level diplomats from four Arab states held a historic two-day meeting with their Israeli counterparts at a hotel in the Negev kibbutz of Sde Boker to assess their current options, as the Biden administration appeared to be on the verge of completing its year-long efforts to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal without remedying any of its major flaws.
The meeting was the latest example how the dramatic shift in US Middle East policy in favor of Iran and Russia have reshaped the diplomatic and security alliances and realities in the region. The American Realignment, which abandoned its commitments to its former friends in the region, has led Israel and its former Sunni Arab state enemies to band together in an alliance of convenience to defend themselves against the common threat from a US-backed and soon-to-be nuclear-armed Iran. The Biden administration’s current strategy seeks to abandon America’s traditional role as the dominant power in the Middle East, and enable the White House to shift its main focus to responding to the growing threat to US global dominance by China.
The Realignment strategy actually originated during President Obama’s administration. Obama saw it as the only way he could free the US from its obligations to maintain an uneasy peace in the chronically unstable Middle East, which had already mired the US in two long and costly military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq.
AMERICA’S MIDDLE EAST REALIGNMENT
The centerpiece of Obama’s strategy was the effort to negotiate a deal with the ayatollahs ruling Iran. The goal of the deal, whose formal name is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was advertised to be an agreement to end Iran’s push to develop nuclear weapons, but its actual covert purpose was to transfer responsibility for pacifying the region from the US to Iran, with military and diplomatic help and cooperation from Russia.
Obama had been secretly reaching out to the leaders of Iran from the first days of his presidency in 2009. At the same time, his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, had announced a “reset” of what had become increasing hostile relations between the US and Russia. In fact, Obama had secretly promised Russian leaders that he would halt the eastward expansion of NATO to include the formerly Soviet-dominated countries of the Cold War-era Warsaw pact, as well as the three Baltic states, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. In exchange, the Russians agreed to give Obama the diplomatic help he needed to successfully negotiate what eventually became the 2015 Iran deal.
The Obama administration vehemently denied that the deal with Iran meant the US abandonment of Israel and the pro-Western Sunni Arab states in the region, and was meant only to prevent Iran from ever illegally obtaining nuclear weapons. But then-Israeli Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu and the leaders of the traditionally pro-US Gulf states realized what the strategic consequences of the Iran nuclear deal would be, and began speaking out forcefully against it.
RESHAPING THE STRATEGIC REALITIES OF THE REGION
At the same time, the leaders of the Arab states were forced to consider the offer by Netanyahu to form a new alliance whose goal would be to defend themselves, in light of the growing likelihood that they could no longer depend on the US to protect them, from Iranian aggression and nuclear blackmail. The result was the radical reshaping of the diplomatic and strategic realities of the Middle East and a de facto military and diplomatic alliance between Israel and its historic Arab enemies. That alliance now includes Israel and the Arab signatories to the Abraham Accords — Bahrain, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirate, along with Egypt and the tacit cooperation of Saudi Arabia.
Last week’s two-day summit between former enemies, symbolically held on Israeli soil, was the most dramatic manifestation yet of the unified purpose of their alliance in expectation of the imminent renewal of the Iran nuclear deal.
Having now begun to distance themselves from their traditional reliance on the US for protection, the members of this new alliance met in Sde Boker to formalize and discuss the further expansion of their new diplomatic, economic, and security arrangements. To symbolize their growing independence from the United States, they have all adopted a cautiously neutral approach to the war in Ukraine, while at the same time reaching out to Russia and China, which are both eager to fill power vacuum in the Middle East created by America’s Realignment.
Other recent changes to longtime rivalries and relationships have also recast the geopolitics of the region. These include a reconciliation between Qatar and the other Persian Gulf oil states following three years of severely strained relations.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia are also now engaged in talks with Turkey, after years of animosity. Turkey has also shown recent signs of seeking to renew its once-close relationship with Israel, after Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, spent the last decade publicly denouncing Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians.
The UAE is also taking the lead in Arab efforts to renew ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, despite the brutal war crimes he committed during Syrian civil war, in an effort to reduce Iran’s disruptive influence over Syria.
But President Biden remains determined to revive the deeply flawed 2015 agreement, virtually unchanged, which would free Iran from the renewed sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump, even though Iran appears to have already achieved its goal of becoming a de facto nuclear-armed power, rendering the agreement obsolete and useless.
ISRAEL, ARAB LEADERS, AND SECRETARY OF STATE BLINKEN
The summit drew together US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, along with the top diplomats of Israel as well as Egypt, Bahrain, Morocco, and the UAE. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid hosted the meeting, and, at the last minute, Egypt chose to send its foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, to participate in the discussions.
The agenda for the meeting was a discussion of the current state and options for the unprecedented Israeli-Arab partnership, including the development of new military and economic ties in the pursuit of their joint strategy against Iran. Specifically, the talks centered on improving missile and air-defense systems against the threat from Iran’s large arsenal of medium-range ballistic missiles and armed drones.
Several days prior to the meeting in Sdei Boker, Israeli Prime Minister Naftoli Bennett traveled to the Egyptian resort city of Sharm El Sheikh to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, and de facto Emirati ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, the Abu Dhabi crown prince. They discussed the same issues which made up the agenda as the Sde Boker meeting, including deepening security and economic ties and countering Iran as the revival of the nuclear deal approaches realization.
In his closing statement at the end of the two-day summit in Sde Boker, Lapid said, “What we are doing here is making history — building a new regional architecture based on progress, technology, religious tolerance, security, and intelligence cooperation. This new architecture, the shared capabilities we are building, intimidates and deters our common enemies — first and foremost Iran and its proxies. They certainly have something to fear.”
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Sde Boker summit was the fact that it took place at all.
When Israel signed the Abraham Accords with the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco in 2020, with the help of the Trump administration, there was a great deal of uncertainty about the significance and sustainability of the new regional relationships. The fact that all three Arab signatories gathered for the first time on Israeli soil, nearly two years later, shows how successful that new partnership has been.
According to Amir Hayek, the Israeli ambassador to the UAE, “The most important issue is sitting together. It’s telling the world that the region is united [against Iran and the renewal of the nuclear deal].”
Another indication of the health of the new alliance was an agreement by the participants in Sde Boker to meet in a different country each year, and to work to convince more Arab states in the region to sign the Abraham Accords.
An important sign of the growing friendship between Israel and its former enemies was the closing statement by the UAE’s foreign minister, Sheik Abdullah bin Zayid, who declared, “This is our first time [in Israel]… If we are curious sometimes, and we want to know things and learn, it’s because although Israel has been part of this region for a very long time, we’ve not known each other. So it’s time to catch up.”
The New York Times reported that Sheikh Abdullah also took the opportunity at Sde Boker to begin mending his country’s strained relationship with the United States, by striking up a friendship with Secretary of State Blinken.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry said that his country was now eager to forge a closer relationship with Israel after 43 years of cold peace which followed the signing of the 1979 Camp David peace agreement.
While in Israel, Blinken also met with Prime Minister Bennett, who cautioned that he would not consider a revived nuclear deal between Iran and the US to be binding on Israel. Bennett also said he hoped that the Biden White House “will hear the concerned voices from the region [about the renewal of the nuclear deal], Israel’s and others.”
JORDAN REFUSES TO PARTICIPATE AND MEETS
WITH THE PA
The only Israeli peace partner that did not participate in the meeting was Jordan, which declined Israel’s invitation to send its foreign minister to the summit. Instead, King Abdullah II of Jordan chose to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah during the second day of the meetings in Sde Boker.
Predictably, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh was harshly critical of the Arab states which have normalized their relations with Israel and are now drawing even closer to it, while leaving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute unresolved.
“We’re following with concern Israel’s movement in the region,” said Shtayyeh. “Arab normalization meetings without ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine are just an illusion, a mirage, and a free reward for Israel.”
The PA Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement claiming that by sponsoring the Sde Boker summit, Israel, with the support of the US, is “taking advantage of Arab anxiety and fear [over the revival of the Iran nuclear deal] to form a new security alliance that bypasses the Palestinian cause… [and] to cover up what it is doing on the ground, including the expansion of settlements and the Judaization of Jerusalem.”
Gaza-based terror groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, issued similar statements, condemning the meetings as a “summit of shame” for normalizing Arab relations with Israel, and accusing the participating Arab governments of conspiring with “Zionist officials on the occupied land of Palestine [in the Negev].”
Iran’s foreign ministry also issued a statement condemning the meeting in Sde Boker as an “evil conference” and a “betrayal of Palestinian aspirations for freedom.”
In fact, the Palestinian issue was discussed during the meetings at Sde Boker. Blinken and three of the four participating Arab ministers restated their support for a two-state solution in their closing remarks, However, it was also clear that a lack of further progress towards a resolution to the Israel-Palestinian dispute is no longer an obstacle to an Arab state’s partnership with Israel.
According to Israeli officials, the informal setting of those meetings, in which the participating diplomats also dined together, was intended to encourage conversations on a broader range of issues, which also included water, energy, and food security problems, in addition to main agenda items of joint security and economic cooperation.
Even though there were no representatives from Saudi Arabia present at the Sde Boker meeting, its informal support for the regional Israeli-Arab alliance against Iran has grown steadily stronger as the negotiations to renew the nuclear pact with Iran have neared completion. While Saudi Arabia continues to hold back from publicly normalizing its relations with Israel, it is no secret that it has been holding quiet talks with Israeli leaders for the past several years on closer military cooperation against the common threat posed by Iran and its proxies.
IRAN BEHIND THE ATTACKS ON PERSIAN GULF OIL FACILITIES
Those bonds of common interest which now unify Saudi Arabia and the UAE with Israel have grown even stronger after a devastating series of missile attacks on Persian Gulf cities and oil facilities by the Houthi rebels in Yemen firing sophisticated Iranian-supplied missiles and drones. Saudi and Emirati leaders rightfully blame the US for the most recent attacks, because the Biden administration has cut off US military support for the Saudi-led coalition that has been battling the Houthis in Yemen for the past several years.
When Abu Dhabi was targeted in January by missiles fired by Houthis in Yemen, the Pentagon belatedly rushed a guided-missile destroyer and F-22 fighters to the UAE, and General Frank McKenzie, the top US military commander in the region, paid a visited in an effort to reassure Emirati leaders of continuing US protection. But the Biden administration offered no public criticism of Iran for supplying the missiles used by the Houthis, and made no demand that Iran halt such attacks as a condition for continuing the negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear deal.
Similarly, during a White House visit by Qatar’s ruler in January, President Biden tried to reassure him that he had ordered Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to “do everything he can to communicate the support of the United States for the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and throughout the Gulf.”
But America’s former Sunni allies are justifiably skeptical of any such US promises to provide them with long-term protection, given the Biden administration’s continued determination to restore the Iran nuclear deal. “The idea that the US is going to be a provider of security, I don’t think they put as much stock in it as they once did,” said Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “All the incentives seem to run in the opposite direction.”
CONNECTION TO THE WAR IN UKRAINE
Outside the region, the news coming out of the historic meeting in Sde Boker was completely overshadowed by the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Biden administration continues to struggle to persuade Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE to join in trying to isolate Russia in response to its invasion and subsequent war crimes committed against the civilians in Ukraine.
Instead, Israel and the Gulf states have either stayed neutral or toned down any public comments about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and his counterpart in the UAE, Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed, were so angry with President Biden for turning his back on their countries that they refused to accept his phone calls in the weeks before the invasion of Ukraine, and then added insult to injury by speaking with Vladimir Putin. Prime Minister Bennett has also talked with both Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in an effort to mediate a ceasefire agreement between them.
At the same time, the Persian Gulf states firmly rejected Biden’s public pleas to increase their crude oil production to alleviate the growing shortages and sharply rising prices due to the growing boycott on international energy markets of Russian-produced oil and natural gas.
Most of the international news reports coming out of the Sde Boker meetings focused on the public comments made by Secretary of State Blinken. But he provided little comfort for the meeting participants over their chief concern — that Iran will only grow more aggressive and powerful when the US sanctions are soon lifted.
NO CONFIDENCE IN BLINKEN’S ASSURANCES FROM BIDEN
Israel and most Arab governments fear that the leaders of Iran will be further emboldened as Biden continues to pull the US back from the Middle East. They expect Biden to continue following the pattern he set with his abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer and his embrace of President Obama’s long-term foreign policy goal of executing a strategic policy pivot towards China in response to the growing challenge it represents to US global dominance.
“A more stable, integrated region gives us a stronger foundation for addressing shared threats like these,” Blinken said, adding that the US will “work together to confront common security challenges, including those from Iran and its proxies.” He also observed that “normalization is becoming the new normal in the region,” that the Sde Boker gathering would have been “unthinkable just a few years ago,” and that the Biden administration hoped “to bring others in [to the Abraham Accords].” But Blinken also insisted that the “regional peace agreements are not a substitute for progress between the Palestinians and Israelis.”
During his Middle East visit, Blinken also stopped in Ramallah to meet with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. While there, Blinken emphasized that the US will continue to emphasize efforts to negotiate a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rather than pursue the regional approach to peace-making embodied by the Abraham Accords.
Noting that “the two sides [Israel and the Palestinians] are very far apart,” Blinken warned Israel’s leaders against any further “actions by either side that could raise tensions,” such as West Bank settlement expansion and evictions from and demolitions of Arab homes, even with the approval of Israeli courts. Blinken’s only public criticism of the Palestinian Authority was its continued payments to terrorists and their families.
BLINKEN DEFENDING THE IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL
Secretary Blinken continued to defend the Biden administration’s efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal. Standing next to Foreign Minister Lapid, he said, “The US believes that a return to full implementation of the deal is the best way to put Iran’s nuclear program back in the box that it was in, but has escaped from since the United States withdrew from that agreement.
“But whether there’s a deal or not, our commitment to the core principle of Iran never acquiring a nuclear weapon is unwavering. And one way or another, we will continue to coordinate closely with our Israeli partners on the way forward… When it comes to the most important element, [Israel and the US] see eye to eye. We are both committed, both determined, that Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon.”
Lapid’s response was limited to a mild statement that Israel had “disagreements” with the Biden administration over the wisdom of the proposed deal to revive the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran. He also diplomatically added that despite Israel’s differences with Washington, it remains in “open and honest dialogue” with America, as its closest ally on the Iran nuclear issue.
Rejoining the Iran nuclear deal continues to be President Biden’s highest foreign-policy goal. US and Iranian officials both say that they are on the threshold of finalizing a deal.
Blinken’s presence at Sde Boker gave both Israeli and Arab leaders another opportunity to urge caution before the Biden administration agrees to renew the Iran nuclear deal on Iran’s terms, as well as to seek new assurances that America would not totally abandon its former allies.
IRAN DEMANDING THE US LEGITIMIZE ITS REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS
The last major sticking point delaying the final agreement to reinstate the 2015 nuclear deal appears to be the US sanctions on Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a centerpiece of the Iranian efforts to destabilize its regional enemies and project military force beyond Iran’s borders. The IRGC’s elite Quds Force has played a key role in coordinating the efforts of Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Lebanon, Yemen, and Iraq.
In Syria, IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani was credited with coming up with the strategy which enabled Assad’s forces to defeat the rebels in the civil war. He eventually was assassinated by a US drone strike just outside of the Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020, just days after the IRGC orchestrated an attack on the American embassy in Baghdad.
The IRGC was officially designated by the State Department as a terrorist organization in 2019 and had been subjected to US sanctions since 2017. The IRGC’s terrorist proxy groups, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have been under US sanctions since 1995. But Iran has insisted on the removal of those sanctions on the IRGC as one of its conditions during the Vienna negotiations for the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal.
When asked at a press conference in Yerushalayim about the Iranian demand that the listing of the IRGC on the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization watchlist be lifted, Secretary of State Blinken gave a carefully non-committal answer. The IRGC, he said, “is probably the most designated organization in one way or another in the world among organizations that we designate, including the foreign terrorist organization designation.”
In a joint statement, Israeli Prime Minister Bennett and Foreign Minister Lapid said: “The IRGC is a terrorist organization that has murdered thousands of people, including Americans. We refuse to believe that the US would remove its designation as a terrorist organization. The IRGC are Hezbollah in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad in Gaza; they are Houthis in Yemen, they are the Shiite militias in Iraq. They kill Jews because they are Jews, they kill Christians because they are Christian, and Muslims because they refuse to surrender to them.”
In a separate statement, PM Bennett said, “We are very concerned about the United States’ intention to give in to Iran’s outrageous demand and remove the IRGC from the list of terrorist organizations. Even now, the IRGC terrorist organization is trying to murder certain Israelis and Americans around the world. Unfortunately, there is still determination to sign the nuclear deal with Iran at almost any cost — including saying that the world’s largest terrorist organization is not a terrorist organization. This is too high a price.”
TIMING OF THE NEW AGREEMENT WITH IRAN STILL IN DOUBT
Speaking at a public forum in Doha, Qatar, Robert Malley, Biden’s special envoy on Iran, said that the terrorist designation of the IRGC should not be relevant to the negotiations to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal: “This is not a deal that is intended to resolve that issue. Many in the region view the IRGC in the same way we view them. I can tell you that the IRGC will remain sanctioned under US law, and our perceptions, our views, our policy towards the IRGC have not changed.”
Malley was cautious about predicting when the agreement to restore the nuclear deal would be finalized, cautioning that it is not “inevitable” nor “just around the corner.” Iran has been negotiating in Vienna for the past year with Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia, who were the other signatories to the original deal. However, Iran has refused to talk directly with the US delegation in Vienna, which is relying on the other signatories to present its positions during the negotiations.
“I can’t be confident it is imminent,” Malley said. “A few months ago, we thought we were pretty close as well. In any negotiations, when there’s issues that remain open for so long, it tells you something about how hard it is to bridge the gap… We have been pretty close for some time and that I think that tells you the difficulty of the issues that remain.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price also made an effort to lower media expectations for the restoration of the Iran nuclear deal to be announced very soon. During a daily press briefing, Price told reporters that such “an agreement is neither imminent nor is it certain…”
“In fact, we are preparing equally for scenarios with and without a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” Price stated. “President Biden has made a commitment that Iran, under his watch, will not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. And that commitment is as true and sturdy in a world in which we have a JCPOA and one in which we don’t.”
Malley also said that the Biden administration would only remain in the deal so long as Iran remains in compliance with the terms of its restrictions on their nuclear program.
At the same Doha forum, Sayyid Kamal Kharrazi, a senior advisor to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said, “The IRGC is the national army and the national army cannot be listed as a terrorist group. The real thing is that IRGC is very important for Iran and we are not going to compromise on that.”
BENNETT HAS GIVEN UP ON BLOCKING THE NUCLEAR DEAL
Meanwhile, Israel Army Radio reported that Prime Minister Bennett told members of his cabinet that he believes that the Biden administration is determined to revive the Iran nuclear deal, despite any objections that Israel might raise, so he was resigned to accepting it as a fait accompli and would “pick our battles with the Americans.”
“There’s no reason for an international campaign against the nuclear deal, because it will be signed,” Bennett reportedly told his ministers. “We’ll fight only where there’s a purpose, as in the case of the IRGC, which we’re still trying to stop.”
Bennett also made public comments at a conference organized by Ynet. “In 2015, the pre-signing rhetoric [by Netanyahu against the original Iran nuclear deal] was at its peak, and it failed. The deal was signed,” Bennett said. “Not only was it signed, but after that, ears in Washington were closed on all other matters. I do not get into quarrels just for the sake of quarrels. I will only go to war if there is a real chance of success and a worthy purpose.”
Bennett then added that the Americans “are fully determined to sign the deal, and they will sign the deal, [but] this time, unlike in 2015,” Israel was prepared with a “massive buildup” of military power “at an almost unprecedented scope.”
The problem with the Iran nuclear deal 2.0 about to be signed by the Biden administration is that it contains no improvements over the deeply flawed version 1.0. It still does nothing to stop Iran’s ballistic missile program or its sponsorship of Shiite terrorist groups and proxy wars against pro-Western governments across the Middle East, as well as its declared intention to destroy Israel.
Even worse, the duration of the original deal’s sunset provisions for the limitations on Iran’s nuclear program was not extended, which means that they will start to expire just three years from now. That would leave Iran free, even under the terms of the deal, to start making its own nuclear weapons, despite the explicit assurances to the contrary by Secretary of State Blinken at Sde Boker.
WHY BIDEN STILL NEEDS PUTIN’S COOPERATION
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has spent the last month publicly censuring and sanctioning Russia over its brutal invasion of Ukraine. Yet at the same time, it was closely coordinating with Russia to finalize the agreement to revive the Iran nuclear deal.
This seemingly erratic behavior is easier to understand in the context of Biden’s adoption of the Realignment strategy initiated by President Obama, which requires Putin’s cooperation. An integral component of that strategy from the beginning was Putin’s willingness to provide Iran with the Russian military might it would need to enforce its rule over the region.
The first example of that strategy in action was the joint intervention by Iran and the Russian military to help Syrian President Assad, a longtime ally of both Iran and Russia, to win the Syrian civil war.
Obama had been relying on Putin’s support in Syria ever since September 2013, when Putin helped Obama extricate himself from a public promise to punish Assad for using nerve gas to kill an estimated 1,400 civilians living in rebel-controlled areas.
Even before that, in March 2012, Obama was caught on an open microphone promising Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that after he was safely reelected to a second term in November, he would have “more flexibility” to make new security concessions to Putin. Obama was clearly heard telling Medvedev that “on all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved, but it’s important for him [Putin] to give me space.” Medvedev was then heard responding that he understood what Obama had just told him and would convey that message to Putin, who was about to become Russia’s president once again.
OBAMA’S CYNICAL SYRIAN PLAYBOOK
It was in Syria that the Obama-Biden team honed its cynical public relations and diplomatic strategy. It enabled the Obama administration to constantly speak out of both sides of its mouth, while doing nothing to stop the deliberate mass slaughter of civilians during the Syrian civil war by the Russian military, as well as Iran, in defense of the Assad regime. Obama spokesmen would alternately moralize about the need to end the bloodbath in Syria, while pragmatically deferring to Putin as the man in control of the diplomatic and military outcome of the civil war.
The intervention of the Russian military was the decisive factor in the outcome of the Syrian civil war. In addition to the effective air support that Russian planes provided the Syrian army on the battlefield, destroying rebel ground forces which lacked any effective air defenses, the merciless Russian bombing which deliberately targeted rebel civilian population centers, reducing them to rubble, was a preview of the same tactics Putin is now using in Ukraine.
DISENGAGING THE US FROM THE MIDDLE EAST
Obama saw the Iran nuclear deal as the key to achieving the long-term goal of his Realignment strategy: the disengagement of the US military from its obligations in the Middle East.
By turning away from the traditional US allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia, while simultaneously trying to mend fences with Iran, the region’s main troublemaker, Obama sought to extricate the US from its role over the past 65 years as the policeman for the region, which had forced the US into costly military involvements in Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Obama believed that the US needed to realign its foreign policy, militarily and economically, to focus on what he saw as the greatest long-term threat to America — the rising challenge from China, which had embarked on an aggressive plan to overtake the US economically and achieve global domination.
Obama had chosen Iran, with Russia’s help, to substitute the United States as the new dominant power to police the Middle East. Russia was needed to play a key role in the nuclear negotiations with Iran and was essential to the technical implementation of the terms of the nuclear deal itself.
In addition, Russia’s military power was needed to supply Iran with the overwhelming force it needed to enforce its will on its more powerful foes in the region, including Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
OBAMA’S FOREIGN POLICY LEGACY
Obama was convinced that his Realignment strategy would eventually be seen as the most significant foreign policy achievement of his presidency, and he was therefore determined to pursue it at almost any cost.
If part of Iran’s price for agreeing to the nuclear deal was for President Assad to win the Syrian civil war, so be it. President Obama was willing to turn a blind eye when Russia used its air power to dominate the battlefield and crush the rebel-held Syrian civilian population centers.
Obama really didn’t care which side won the civil war in Syria, as long he would not be forced to send US troops into harm’s way between the two sides. Obama’s main concern was that the reaction of the American people to hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians being murdered might interfere with his efforts to reach the original nuclear deal with Iran, which was an accomplice to the war crimes being committed in Syria.
By refusing to apply pressure on Russia to stop its human rights atrocities in Syria, the Obama administration became a willing silent partner in them.
BIDEN DETERMINED TO FINISH WHAT OBAMA STARTED
In an article published last May in the Tablet, Middle East policy experts Tony Badran, at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Michael Doran, at the Hudson Institute, argue that Obama’s strategy to have Russia and Iran serve as America’s subcontractors to run the Middle East has been wholly adopted by the Biden administration today. They also believe that a major part of Putin’s incentive for partnering with Iran has been the covert cooperation — first by the Obama administration and now by the Biden administration — with his long-term efforts to dismember and eventually destroy Ukraine as an independent country.
“A consensus reigns inside the [Biden] administration, not just on the JCPOA, but on every big question of Middle East strategy: Everyone from the president on down agrees about the need to complete what Obama started — which means that the worst is yet to come,” Badran and Doran wrote.
Badran also suggested, in a Tablet article published two weeks ago, that President Biden’s determination to finish what Obama started, with Russia’s cooperation, rather than fear of escalating the war in Ukraine, is the real reason why he has been shielding Putin from the full consequences of the stalled Russian invasion.
The same Obama administration officials who first carried out the Realignment strategy, resulting in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, are now in full charge of President Biden’s foreign policy. These include Biden’s National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan; his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken; and his Special Envoy for Iran, Robert Malley. As for Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, the main American architect of the 2015 nuclear deal, he now serves as Biden’s climate change envoy. When asked about the fighting in Ukraine, Kerry’s main concern was that the worldwide energy shortage it has created might delay the pace of America’s abandonment of fossil fuel energy.
THE GAP BETWEEN BIDEN’S UKRAINE RHETORIC AND HIS ACTIONS
Due to the public outrage over Putin’s conduct to the war, Biden has been forced to escalate his initially rather mild criticism of Putin’s conduct. Over the past week, Biden has, for the first time, publicly labeled Putin as a war criminal and called for the Russian dictator to be removed from power (although the White House immediately tried to walk the latter statement).
But don’t be fooled by Biden’s harsh anti-Putin rhetoric — it is not matched by his actions. Biden has only agreed to provide Ukraine with the minimum amount of military aid needed to prolong the current standoff against the Russian army. He has turned down President Zelensky’s urgent requests for a NATO-enforced no-fly zone, and additional Soviet-era Mig-29 jet fighters that had been offered by Poland. Together, they might have enabled Ukraine to quickly defeat the Russian army and drive it out. Instead, it appears that neither side is now capable of decisively winning the conflict, raising the prospect of a long and bloody stalemate.
According to several media reports, instead of giving Ukraine the weapons and support it needs to win the war, the Biden administration has been pressuring Zelensky in recent days to submit to Putin’s conditions. These include Ukraine giving up its sovereign rights over the Crimea and the eastern Donbas region, severing its ties with Western Europe — including its efforts to join NATO — and effectively submitting to long-term Russian domination.
Despite Putin’s outrageous conduct, under the radar, Biden and his foreign policy team are alleged to be continuing to give him their covert support in return for his continued cooperation in executing the Realignment strategy, which begins by reviving, essentially unchanged, the flawed Iran deal.
ONE-WAY NEGOTIATIONS WITH IRAN
So far, the negotiations with Iran have been going just one way, with Iran doubling down on its demands while the US and its allies keep giving ground.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden promised he would be able to convince Iran to improve the terms of the original 2015 deal in return for Iran’s return to compliance with the restrictions on its nuclear program. But while the Iranians returned to their typical stalling tactics, dragging out the negotiations in Vienna for a full year, they have been boasting that they have been enriching uranium to 60% purity, essentially weapons grade material. For more than six months, Western arms experts have been telling the media that an immediate renewal of the 2015 deal was essential because Iran would pass the threshold of nuclear arms capability withing two or three months, rendering the agreement moot. But the negotiations in Vienna are still dragging on, with the Biden administration prepared to make even more concessions to Iran’s demands.
The conclusion is inescapable. Despite their rhetoric, Biden and his foreign policy team don’t really care if Iran gets nuclear weapons. At this point, it’s already a fait accompli, and all the former US allies in the region know it. The administration is using the supposed need for a nuclear deal with Iran to divert the American public’s attention from the fact that they are in the process of selling out those former allies in the Middle East to Iran and Russia.
ISRAEL AND ARAB STATES NOW ON THEIR OWN
Those allies are now essentially on their own. The Abraham Accords became a reality with the help and encouragement of Trump administration. It was an imaginative new approach to ending the Arab-Israeli conflict, which bypassed the obstructionist Palestinians and sought to create regional peace and prosperity based upon mutual economic development and cooperation. But since Biden took office, the Abraham Accords have been forced to become more of a mutual defense pact against a powerful common enemy in the region, a nuclear-armed Iran, and its partner and protector, Vladimir Putin.
In the meantime, the Biden administration has all but ignored the Abraham Accords, while restoring US aid and recognition to the corrupt Palestinian Authority and talking up efforts to revive the hopelessly failed two-state solution illusion.
The Biden administration is still providing a significant amount of military aid to Israel, but that support comes with strings attached. The White House uses the leverage that aid gives them to pressure Israel’s leaders to restrict its housing development in the West Bank and East Yerushalayim, as well as limiting the extent to which the Israeli military can go in response to Iranian-supported terrorist attacks and missile strikes from Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria.
US relations with Saudi Arabia are even worse, with President Biden publicly accusing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of having ordered the murder of his outspoken critic, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, in 2018. The Saudi prince has been ignoring Biden’s calls of late.
WHY ISRAEL MUST STAY OUT OF THE UKRAINE DISPUTE
While Israel’s leaders are sympathetic to the plight of Ukraine, symbolized by their willingness to grant asylum to thousands of non-Jewish Ukrainian refugees and set up a field hospital in the war-torn country, they do not want to get caught in the middle of the dispute.
Israel has been playing a neutral role in Ukraine because its leaders know they can’t afford to insult Putin and risk the de-confliction arrangement he has agreed to between Israeli aircraft and the Russian air force, which currently controls Syrian airspace.
For the sake of their own survival, Israel and its new Arab allies must continue to make their joint response to the threat from a soon-to-be nuclear armed Iran their top priority. Much as they might want to, Israel’s leaders say they cannot afford to get entangled with either side in Ukraine’s war against Russia, and for Israel’s own sake, they must continue to maintain at least a working relationship with Putin.