OpinionIsrael at War

Biden’s veto is a threat to Western security and the Arab states

An Israeli defeat and a Hamas victory will drive Saudi Arabia and Egypt to ally with Iran, undermining the Biden administration's entire Middle East strategy.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks announcing CHIPS and Science Act grants to Intel to expand U.S. semiconductor production on March 20, 2024, at the Intel Ocotillo Campus in Chandler, Ariz. Credit: Adam Schultz/White House.
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks announcing CHIPS and Science Act grants to Intel to expand U.S. semiconductor production on March 20, 2024, at the Intel Ocotillo Campus in Chandler, Ariz. Credit: Adam Schultz/White House.
Hillel Frisch
Hillel Frisch
Hillel Frisch is a professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and an expert on the Arab world at The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

President Joe Biden’s Middle East strategy has been problematic since the Oct. 7 attack. The Hamas onslaught proved that Israel cannot contain its enemies Hamas, Hezbollah and above all, Iran, and can only fight to reduce their capabilities, while Biden has reiterated his policy of containment regarding Iran and its proxies.

Iran was to be rewarded with the release of bank deposits the United States has frozen since the fall of the shah. Biden also sent his special negotiator to try to broker a deal in which Hezbollah would withdraw beyond the Litani River, a 50-minute drive from the Israel-Lebanon border, with all its military capabilities intact.

Despite this policy of containment, which has done nothing to deal with the lethal capabilities of Iran and its proxies, not to mention its possible repercussions on nuclear proliferation, Biden demands of the United States’ only effective ally in the region, Israel, that it make concessions on the Palestinian front. Even under the optimal scenario, doing so would put Israel at a grave security risk.

In recent weeks it has become increasingly clear that Biden is now poised to prevent Israel from operating in Rafah, Hamas’s final stronghold, and thus defeat it.

This would be a disastrous mistake, not only for Israel, but for the security of democratic states, especially the United States and its Western allies, as well as the Arab states in the region.

Hamas’s war against Israel has proved beyond doubt that it (and all the more so Hezbollah) are far more militarily powerful than any Arab state, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Neither state, in the event of war with Israel, would have held out for five months against an Israeli onslaught. Egypt has been unable to suppress the small Islamic State presence in the Sinai even with Israeli help. Saudi Arabia in the last four decades has been defeated in Lebanon, where Hezbollah holds sway, compelled to cease its military offensive against the Houthis in Yemen, who threaten its existence, and the Sunni forces it backed in Iraq have been severely maimed by Iran’s Iraqi proxies. Iran is easily the winner in these contests, and the “pragmatic” Arab states have clearly been the losers.

Biden promises as a reward for Israel’s concessions on the Palestinian front normalization with Saudi Arabia. However, if Biden does not allow Israel to defeat Hamas, such normalization might prove meaningless given the threat Hamas and its Muslim Brotherhood allies, in conjunction with Iran and its proxies, would pose to Saudi Arabia.

Already, Saudi Arabia is showing signs of “bandwagoning” (leaning) toward Iran based on the logic of “if you can’t beat them, join them,” much as Jordan did at the beginning of the Six-Day War, when it felt compelled to join forces with an Egyptian regime that was bent on destroying it, in the hope (that indeed came to pass) that losing half the kingdom would be better than losing it all if Egypt’s dictate was not followed.

Saudi Arabia’s weakness in the face of Iran and its Houthi proxy can be clearly seen in the growing Houthi threat to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, which is more of a vital security interest to Saudi Arabia than to anyone else. Despite the threat, Saudi Arabia has not joined forces with the United States and Great Britain to meet the threat. Its official press reports on these countries’ efforts to defend free navigation are worded as if this were a security problem facing these states rather than a direct threat to Saudi national security.

The response of the only other Arab state with credible military capabilities, Egypt, to the Houthi threat has likewise been weak to nonexistent, despite the threat it poses to the navigation route that leads to the Suez Canal, a major source of income for this cash-strapped, demographically-burdened country.

Regarding the other Gulf states, they never posed a counterbalance to Iran and its proxies even before Hamas’s Oct. 7 onslaught on Israel, let alone in a scenario in which Hamas is victorious. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991, which took less than 48 hours, is a painful reminder of the extent to which these states would be a walkover for Iran and its proxies. For Israel to be prevented from achieving victory against Hamas would clearly be understood as a Hamas victory—a decisive moment in Iran’s pursuit of regional hegemony and marking the loss of U.S. credibility in the region.

Vetoing an Israeli victory and enabling a Hamas victory in its stead, then, undermines if not destroys the whole logic of the Biden doctrine, which is based on creating a coalition of Israel and Arab states against Iran.

Instead of a coalition of Arab states and Israel led by the United States, the pragmatic Arab states, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, will be rushing to join the Iranian axis in the (vain) hope that Iran will rein in Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and prevent them from destroying these states from within.

And as for the humanitarian argument against Israeli victory in Rafah, consider how many Palestinians, Israelis, Saudis, Lebanese, Egyptians and Yemenis will lose their lives in the subsequent bouts in the event of a Hamas victory. After all, Israelis will not go like sheep to the slaughter, nor will the resolve of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas to slaughter them subside.

Originally published by The Jerusalem Institute of Strategy and Security.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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