Israel will urge Biden to work with Saudis, other Arab states central to Iran strategy

Israeli security officials say Biden will be pushed to focus on the Iranian threat to America’s allies in the Middle East.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel intends to ask the new Biden administration not to immediately put pressure on Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and to avoid confrontations with them on regional and other issues, Walla! News reported Thursday.

Jerusalem fears that president-elect Joe Biden, who takes office in one week, will not only try to return to the nuclear deal with Iran, but will also cool its relations with the United States’ Arab allies in the region.

Israel sees its security and intelligence relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE as a key factor in the strategy to contain Iran and as an important component in regional security.

“Israel and the Gulf states share an interest in preventing the immediate complete removal of sanctions without appropriate compensation from Iran,” Eldad Shavit and Sima Shine of the Institute for National Securities Studies wrote on Monday. “Thus, there is room to coordinate positions and present them separately and together to the Biden administration.”

Senior defense officials told Walla! that the Israeli government plans to make the case to the Biden administration that the region has changed over the last four years, with a new regional alignment forming as Israel strengthens its ties with Arab countries.

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Biden has promised to put the issue of human rights protection high on the list of foreign policy priorities in his administration. In telephone conversations with 17 world leaders after his election victory Biden did not speak with leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE – although all three are considered key regional allies.

During the election campaign, Biden was particularly critical of Saudi Arabia over its role in the Yemen civil war and human rights issues, despite Iran arming and backing the Houthi rebels there trying to overthrow the government with war causing a huge humanitarian crisis.

Israel sees its security and intelligence relationships with those three Arab countries as central to its strategy to counter Iran and an important pillar in regional security. It’s hoping the new administration will prioritize that process over its concerns about the war in Yemen or human rights issues.

“We were very close to losing Egypt several years ago and our message to the Biden administration will be: ‘Take it slow, dramatic changes took place, don’t come with predispositions and don’t harm relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE,'” a senior Israeli official told Walla! reporter Barak Ravid.

Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt all welcomed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to designate the Houthi rebels as a terror organization.

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Some Democrats want to reverse that decision, but Israel hasn’t taken any position and instead is emphasizing recent Houthi threats on Israeli shipping in the Red Sea and fears the Houthis could use Iranian-supplied long range suicide drones to attack Israel from Yemen.

The officials said Israel encouraged Egypt and Saudi Arabia to take steps on human rights issues in order to improve the atmosphere for dialogue with the Biden administration. At the same time, Israel plans to warn Biden’s team that a crisis in relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt could push those countries away from the U.S. and toward Russia and China.