Ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, the president published an op-ed in The Washington Post, in which he placed his trip in the context of his overall Middle East policy. A few days later, Israel’s opposition leader, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made a brief statement on Biden’s then upcoming visit that spoke directly to the claims Biden made in his article. Taken together, the two communications explain why Biden’s visit was a failure before it even began—and what a successful policy looks like.
Biden’s article, “Why I’m going to Saudi Arabia,” was a political communication to his party’s progressive base. It served a twofold purpose. First, it was an apology to progressives, who are hostile to both Saudi Arabia and Israel. Second, Biden assured progressives that he was not changing course. His Middle East policy to date will remain his policy going forward.
That policy has three major pillars: hostility towards Saudi Arabia and particularly Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS); financial, nuclear and strategic appeasement of Iran; and support for the Palestinians, at Israel’s expense. Biden insisted in his op-ed that he remains true to these positions, but as president also has Russia and China to keep at bay.
As he put it, “As president, it is my job to keep our country strong and secure. We have to counter Russia’s aggression, put ourselves in the best possible position to outcompete China, and work for greater stability in a consequential region of the world.”
He promised his progressive readers that he would keep the heat on Saudi Arabia (and Israel). As he put it, “My views on human rights are clear and long-standing, and fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda when I travel abroad, as they will be during this trip [to Saudi Arabia], just as they will be in Israel and the West Bank.”
Biden’s policy of supporting the PLO at Israel’s expense failed 22 years ago, when the Palestinians rejected the so-called two state solution at the Camp David peace summit. And it has continued to fail ever since. All the same, Biden slavishly maintains it, to placate the Israel-bashing progressive base of the Democrat Party.
In contrast, Biden’s policies towards Saudi Arabia and Iran are failing now for the first time. The implications of their failures for the United States, for U.S. allies and for regional stability and security are catastrophic. And yet, Biden pledged in his article to stay the course.
Biden’s decision to allow the 2018 killing of former Saudi intelligence officer and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi to be the definitive event in U.S.-Saudi ties was irrational from a strategic perspective. Khashoggi wasn’t a dissident in the traditional sense of the word. MBS assumed the role of crown prince, responsible for the day to day governance of the kingdom, in 2017. One of the first major efforts MBS undertook was to realign Saudi Arabia away from jihadist terror groups and the Muslim Brotherhood, by, among other things, purging Saudi intelligence services of terror supporters and operatives.
Khashoggi, who had warm ties with Osama bin Laden, among other terrorists, was part of the group MBS purged. During his sojourn in Washington, Khashoggi had close ties with Qatar, which serves both as the capital of the Muslim Brotherhood and the lead sponsor of Sunni terror groups.
So while Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 was certainly a brutal crime, it is hard to understand why the progressive base of the Democrat Party chose to transform Khashoggi into a modern-day Solzhenitsyn.
The consequences of Biden’s policy of treating MBS as a pariah have been disastrous— for the United States. Rather than beg for forgiveness or fire his son, King Salman and MBS have expanded Saudi Arabia’s ties with Russia and China, undermining still further America’s position as the preeminent superpower in the region.
Biden’s decision to demonize MBS for his alleged role in killing Khashoggi, even as MBS steered Saudi Arabia onto a new, anti-jihadist, modernist course made no sense on its merits. But the decision is pure madness when seen in the context of Biden’s decision to implement precisely the opposite policy in relation to Iran.
Not only is Iran waging proxy wars against the United States and its allies in the region via its terror armies, and not only is Iran developing nuclear weapons, but Iran has been working openly, for months, to assassinate senior U.S. officials on U.S. soil. Yet whereas Biden took an ax to the U.S.-Saudi alliance, he is pursuing a policy of appeasement towards Iran that has undone the United States’ credibility with its regional allies.
Even worse, according to Biden’s envoy for negotiations with Iran Robert Malley, Biden’s Iran policy has transformed Iran into a turnkey nuclear power. In an interview last week with NPR, Malley said that Iran already has sufficient quantities of uranium to develop nuclear weapons, and that it will only take Iran three weeks to put together a bomb.
Yet, Biden insisted in his article that his efforts to convince Iran to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, which paved Tehran’s path to the bomb, are rational and successful, and that he remains fully committed to his course.
This brings us to Netanyahu.
Biden presented his trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia as a major event in the annals of peacemaking in the region. In his words, “On Friday, I will … be the first president to fly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. That travel will also be a small symbol of the budding relations and steps towards normalization between Israel and the Arab world, which my administration is working to deepen and expand.”
Netanyahu used Biden’s direct flight to Saudi Arabia from Israel as a launching point for what was effectively his response to Biden’s article, and his policies. Like Biden, Netanyahu’s primary target audience was not international. It was Israeli voters, who will be going to the polls to elect a new Knesset and government in November. Speaking in Hebrew, Netanyahu used his remarks to draw a contrast between himself and caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who refuses to object to any of Biden’s policies, whether in relation to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jerusalem or Judea and Samaria. All the same, the message Netanyahu communicated to the Saudis, the Americans and the world was direct and clear.
Netanyahu welcomed Biden’s history making flight from Tel Aviv to Jeddah. But he placed Biden’s trip in historical context. In 2017, then President Donald Trump was the first man to fly openly directly from Riyadh to Israel. And whereas Biden will participate in a routine meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council during his visit in Jeddah, Trump and MBS co-hosted an unprecedented counter-terror conference with Arab leaders where Trump exhorted his audience to “drive out” the Islamic terrorists from their midst.
After recalling Trump’s flight, Netanyahu turned his attention to the spurned Saudi Crown Prince.
“Today I’d like to voice my appreciation for Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia,” Netanyahu began.
“I’d like to express my appreciation for his contribution to the achievement of the four historic peace agreements that we delivered—the Abraham Accords.”
Netanyahu explained that it was MBS’s decision to allow flights to Israel to overfly Saudi airspace that was the beginning of normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia and the wider Arab world.
In other words, Netanyahu explained that MBS is a partner, not a criminal.
Netanyahu then pledged to go beyond normalized relations to formal ties of peace between Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states if voters return him to office in November. Finally, Netanyahu explained the foundations of the peaceful relations he forged with Arab states.
“I know that many leaders in the Arab world trust me. They believe that under my leadership, Iran will never have nuclear weapons. This steady position contributed greatly to the achievement of the Abraham Accords. And it will enable me, as your representative, to expand the circle of peace.”
So contrary to Biden, who claims that his policy of bullying and demonizing U.S. allies while appeasing Iran is the path to peace, Netanyahu explained that the foundation of Arab-Israeli peace is Israeli strength and Israel’s willingness to do whatever is necessary to block Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal.
In an interview with Israel television Channel 12‘s anchor Yonit Levy broadcast Wednesday night, perhaps as a rejoinder to Netanyahu, Biden said that as a last resort he is willing to use force to block Iran’s path to the bomb. But given that all of Iran’s major advances in uranium enrichment have happened since Biden came into office, in light of Malley’s claim that Iran is a threshold nuclear state and Biden’s continued commitment to the irrelevant 2015 nuclear deal, his statement is entirely unconvincing.
Biden and his advisers have tamped down expectations for any major advances in peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and they are right to do so. So long as the progressive base of the Democrat Party dictates Biden’s foreign policies, those policies will continue to fail, to the detriment of regional security and stability, of America’s allies and of America’s strategic interests and superpower status.
For Biden to succeed, he must follow Netanyahu’s lead and exchange his failed policies with ones predicated on strength, common interests and strategic realities.
Caroline Glick is an award-winning columnist and author of “The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East.”