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Source: Newsweek

Jun 5, 2024

Feckless Policy Toward Israel Drives U.S. Allies Toward Iran

By Joseph Epstein

On May 25, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, accepted an invitation to visit Tehran, in what would be a first by a Saudi royal in more than two decades.

Such a visit would follow the Egyptian foreign minister's recent first trip to the Islamic Republic and statements by Jordan's crown prince and Bahrain's king stating a desire for better relations with Iran.

What do these Middle East countries have in common?

They are all key regional U.S. allies, as well as victims of Iranian subversion.

In early May, Jordan foiled a suspected Iranian-led plot to smuggle weapons to Muslim Brotherhood cell in the Hashemite Kingdom. Jordanian officials have warned of increased "intensive Iranian efforts" to destabilize the Amman government over the past few months.

In Bahrain, Saraya Al-Ashtar, an Iranian-backed militia, has carried out some 20 terrorist attacks against the government and recently claimed to have launched a drone into Israel from Bahraini territory.

In Egypt, Iran has a long history of partnering with the Muslim Brotherhood, the most destabilizing force in the country and has even taken credit for the 2011 revolution that toppled longtime Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak during the so-called Arab Spring.

Saudi Arabia may be the nation most at odds with Iran outside of Israel. Both countries have competed for regional influence and have often clashed, including battles in Yemen and Syria. Iran has additionally sought to destabilize Riyadh through partnering with the Muslim Brotherhood.

So why seek rapprochement now?

The answer is simple—fear. These U.S. allies are scared of Iran and uncertain of Washington's support. Their doubts stem from the Biden administration's continuous appeasement of Iran even as Tehran launches a massive proxy war against its closest regional ally, Israel.

On May 27, the Wall Street Journal reported that the United States pressured its European allies not to censure Iran over its nuclear program, even as Tehran's stockpile of weapons-grade fissile material has reached record levels.

In March, the administration reissued a $10 billion sanctions waiver to Iran. And following Iran's attack on Israel the next month, Biden told Israel to "take the win" of a successful defense and did everything in its power to mitigate an Israeli strike on Iran.

Biden's Middle East policy is a continuation of former President Barack Obama's approach. Obama saw the Iranian regime as a legitimate actor that deserved to share regional hegemony with Saudi Arabia.

Revival of Obama's nuclear deal with Iran became a major policy goal for Biden after former President Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement. It was a clear message that the U.S. wants to take a less active role in the region.

Such a climate has led these moderate Arab states to hedge their bets by seeking better relations with Iran. They all have relatively ineffective militaries and are vulnerable to destabilization. Restoring relations with Iran even as it actively works to subvert their governments is much less costly than taking an openly hostile stance.

Yet rapprochement will mean more concessions to Iran. In February, the United Arab Emirates, one of the U.S.'s foremost allies in the region, along with other unnamed Arab countries restricted Washington from conducting retaliatory airstrikes on Iranian proxies from their territory.

Last December, when the U.S. created a naval coalition to combat Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Washington's Red Sea Arab allies, abstained.

This trend toward seeking better relations with Iran may not be too late to fix, but it would require a complete U.S. policy shift.

If the Biden administration wants to win back these allies, it must give them robust security assurances and proof of U.S. commitments through strong support for Israel.

This has worked in the past. It is no coincidence that the Abraham Accords were signed after Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognized the Golan Heights as Israeli territory. Strong support for allies begets a desire to improve relations.

A crucial motivator for the Abraham Accords was Arab signatory countries realizing they were vulnerable and needed a regional alliance with the only two forces that can stand up to Iran—the United States and Israel. But with Washington's policy of appeasing Iran, the risk of normalizing becomes more costly than its benefits.

Currently, Biden desperately seeks a peace deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, but the chances are minimal.

Normalization would upset Iran, and Riyadh will try to avoid an accord while it is unsure of ironclad U.S. support.

Proponents of the administration may argue that many of these countries came together to repel the Iranian attack on Israel. But no nation wants missiles or drones flying over their territory. And helping Israel then doesn't mean they would give permission for Israeli planes to cross into their airspace to strike Iran.

These Arab nations have seen how the Biden administration treats its allies. He has paused crucial bomb shipments, repeatedly opposed Israeli strategy and threatened to sanction Israeli military units.

In 2021, Biden ended support for the Saudi/U.A.E. war against the Iranian-backed Houthis. And he has personally targeted both the Saudi crown prince and Israeli prime minister.

The key for the Biden administration to win back the region is simple—support U.S. allies and deter enemies.

As the Saudi analyst Mohammed Alyahya wrote, "the world order created and long sustained by the United States can't be destroyed by any global actor... [but] only be destroyed by the United States itself."

Joseph Epstein is the director for legislative affairs at the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) and a fellow at the Yorktown Institute.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

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