The president will seek to promote normalisation between the two nations. He will also press Riyadh to increase oil production. In return, he may lift a ban on offensive arms sales to the Kingdom

Israel-Saudi Arabia relations key issue on Biden's Middle East trip

photo_camera AP/EVAN VUCCI - President Joe Biden steps off Air Force One

US President Joe Biden's Air Force One is scheduled to land at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport tomorrow afternoon. This marks the beginning of his first Middle East tour since being sworn in in 2021. With this trip, Washington is showing that, despite the ongoing war in Ukraine and threats from Russia and China, the region remains a priority for US foreign policy. On the other hand, Biden is seeking to strengthen alliances in the region, such as with Israel and Jordan, as well as repairing ties with Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

In addition to consolidating and strengthening relations, the US leader's trip aims to follow in the wake of the peace agreements reached between Israel and some Arab countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco. This historic step, dubbed 'the agreement of the century', has generated numerous benefits for the countries involved. Security, science, technology, economy and trade are some of the sectors where Arab-Israeli cooperation has been boosted since the signing of the Abraham Accords, sponsored by the administration of former US president Donald Trump. 

El príncipe heredero saudí Mohammed bin Salman Bandar Aljaloud/Palacio Real saudí vía AP

Now, the Biden administration wants to go further and hopes to push for new peace agreements between Israel and Arab countries, in particular with Saudi Arabia. For years, several media outlets have reported on an alleged rapprochement between Jerusalem and Riyadh. According to some reports, the two countries cooperate secretly on regional and security issues. Israel and Saudi Arabia also share a common enemy: Iran. The threat and influence of the Tehran regime is one of the main challenges for both the Jewish state and the Gulf monarchy.

In this regard, even Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud has admitted that in the future 'there will be a normalisation with Israel', something that 'will bring immense benefits'. However, the head of Saudi diplomacy has stressed that these benefits "cannot be reaped unless the Palestinian issue is not addressed". For Riyadh, the Palestinian issue is a key point in this regard.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, for his part, stressed that Israel "reaches out to all countries in the region", calling on them to "build ties, establish relations and change history for the sake of our children". "From Jerusalem, the [US] president's plane will fly to Saudi Arabia and carry a message of peace and hope from us," Lapid said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, according to The Times of Israel.

El primer ministro israelí Yair Lapid habla al comienzo de la reunión semanal del gabinete en Jerusalén, el domingo 10 de julio de 2022 AP/MAYA ALLERUZZO
What we can expect from Biden's Middle East trip 

Of the many issues on Biden's agenda on this trip, the possible normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia will play a major role. Last week, The Times of Israel noted, quoting an Israeli official, that the main objective of Biden's trip would be to promote "regional integration" between Israel and its Arab neighbours.

Earlier this week, the US president himself indicated in an opinion piece in The Washington Post that he will be the first US president to fly directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia. In the column, entitled 'Why I'm going to Saudi Arabia', he notes that this trip is a "small symbol" of the rapprochement between Israel and the Arab countries in the region. According to Biden, the flight from Israel to Jeddah represents "steps toward normalisation between Israel and the Arab world". 

Joe Biden, vicepresidente de Estados Unidos, en el centro, señala a uno de los empleados de Masdar City mientras Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, ministro de Estado de los Emiratos Árabes Unidos y presidente de Masdar City, tercero a la izquierda, le observa durante su primer día de gira en Abu Dhabi, Emiratos Árabes Unidos, el lunes 7 de marzo de 2016 AP/KAMRAN JEBRELI

In his article, the president also highlighted the US role in the latest war between Israel and Hamas. "We helped end a war in Gaza that could easily have gone on for months," he said. In this regard, Biden praised the cooperation with Israel, Egypt, Qatar and Jordan to "keep the peace without allowing terrorists to rearm". But he did not forget the Palestinians either. The president stressed that Washington has "rebuilt ties" with Palestinians. "My administration restored approximately $500 million in support for the Palestinians," he recalled.

Biden also alluded to Riyadh, stressing that his goal is to "reorient and not break relations with a country that has been a strategic partner for 80 years". He also praised Saudi Arabia's role in the truce in Yemen and in stabilising oil markets. Since the start of the war in Ukraine and the rise in fuel prices, Washington has called on Riyadh to increase oil production to cope with these rising prices.

Un miembro de la Fuerza Aérea de Estados Unidos se encuentra cerca de una batería de misiles Patriot en la base aérea Príncipe Sultán en al-Kharj, en el centro de Arabia Saudí, el 20 de febrero de 2020 PHOTO/AP

However, Saudi Arabia has maintained production as agreed with OPEC+, of which Russia is a member. Even so, Biden is expected to continue to press Bin Salman to increase oil production. To achieve this, Biden could lift the ban on offensive arms sales to Saudi Arabia, provided that Riyadh moves to end the war in Yemen, according to Reuters. 


The president also took the opportunity to refer to his main enemies: China, Russia and Iran. "Now it is Iran that is isolated until it returns to the nuclear deal that my predecessor abandoned without any plan to replace it," he wrote, indirectly mentioning Trump.

Biden, in addition to being the first US president to travel from Israel to Saudi Arabia, will also be the first to visit the region since 9/11 "without US troops engaged in a combat mission".

During his tour, Biden is likely to discuss with regional partners challenges in the region, such as Iran's nuclear programme, the war in Syria and Yemen, the food crisis, terrorist groups and the political stalemate in Iraq, Libya and Lebanon. 

Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra.