Biden Appears To Be on Bended Knee, Aiming To Make the Saudis Happy

It wasn’t long ago that the crown prince was pilloried the world over for the killing and dismembering of a nemesis, Jamal Khashoggi. Now Biden, who once stopped arms sales to Riyadh and vowed to shun MbS, seems enamored with the prince.

Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP
President Biden and Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, bumps fists at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in July 2022. Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP

Once designated for pariah status, Saudi Arabia is now courted by leaders around the world, including President Biden, who is pulling out all the stops in an attempt to keep the Kingdom on America’s side.

Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman is now a welcome guest everywhere on the globe. Prime Minister Meloni has invited him to Thursday’s summit of the elite Group of Seven as part of a large contingent of non-members that also includes Pope Francis and President Zelensky. He will be the first Saudi leader to attend a G7 meeting.  

Universally known as MbS, the crown prince has long been the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia. His 88-year-old father, King Salman, was hospitalized last month with lung complications. Unofficial reports have been swirling at Riyadh that the king’s health is so frail that he might soon officially make his son the new king. 

As crown prince, MbS has made tremendous strides toward reforming the once-backward Saudi Arabia. Yet, internal enemies — the old guard — are plotting against him and attempting to pull the Kingdom back to more traditional policies at home and in the region.

It wasn’t long ago that Prince Mohamed was pilloried the world over for the gruesome killing and dismembering of a nemesis, Jamal Khashoggi. Now Mr. Biden, who once stopped arms sales to Riyadh and vowed to shun MbS, seems enamored with the prince.

Over the weekend the Wall Street Journal reported that the Biden administration is “close to finalizing” a defense treaty with Riyadh. It would require ratification by a two-thirds Senate majority, which is widely seen as unlikely unless the treaty is tied to normalization of ties between the Kingdom and Israel. 

Despite King Salman’s frailty, it would be difficult for MbS to drop past positions on Arab-Israeli enmities as long as his father is alive. “He still has his father in power, and there is a broader question about how MbS would be able to deal with the old guard” on peace with Israel, a vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Jonathan Schanzer, tells the Sun.

This week, the Kingdom issued an invitation to the next Hadj for 1,000 “pilgrims from the families of martyrs and the wounded from the Gaza Strip.” The invitation, notably, was issued in the name of the king rather than the de facto ruler, his son.  

The White House and many in the press insist that formalizing Riyadh’s relations with Jerusalem hinges on Israel ending the Gaza war and supporting a future Palestinian state. Yet, for MbS there might be additional considerations before signing on to Mr. Biden’s deal. 

“The Saudis are watching the way the U.S. has been dealing with Israel, and if that might be an indication,” Mr. Schanzer, who often visits Riyadh, says. Mr. Biden has threatened to stop arms deliveries to Israel, a strong American ally, so “if the Saudis get an alliance with the U.S. and the U.S, withholds weapons, why would they want that?” 

Israeli hawks point out that in the Mideast, alliances are made with strong parties, so the Saudis might wait to see how Israel emerges from the Gaza war. “No one will make a deal with us if we are seen as weak,” a Likud Knesset member, Hanoch Milwidsky, told Kan News Wednesday. 

Riyadh has been fighting the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Hamas originally emerged, at home and abroad. Now, Sunni Hamas is also tightly allied with a regional Saudi foe, Shiite Iran. 

In recent writings intercepted by the Journal, Hamas’s Gaza leader, Yehya Sinwar, refers to martyrdom in the battle of Karbala in the year 680. That event is revered by Shiites, and is very rarely mentioned by Sunnis, a Tel Aviv University Palestinian affairs scholar, Michael Milshtein, notes on X. 

Riyadh, therefore, has reason to root for Hamas to be soundly defeated in the war. Yet, MbS is well aware of the Saudi street’s pro-Palestinian sympathies, and of the old guard’s aversion to the Jewish state. He wants no distractions that would undermine his Vision 2030, a plan to wean the Kingdom’s economy from sole reliance on oil and to modernize its society. 

Beyond the dream of a peaceful Mideast, Mr. Biden now seems well aware that he needs to prevent further erosion of the region’s drift away from America, and that it depends in large part on what MbS will do next.

The future king may hint at alliances with Communist China, Russia, and even Iran, but he would much rather tie Saudi Arabia with the West. For now, though, it seems that Mr. Biden is yet to fully convince him that America is a trustworthy ally.

The New York Sun

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