What the Arabs expect from Biden’s visit to the Middle East

Biden, in the view of many Arabs, should be appropriately firm in dealing with the Iranian threat and restore the confidence of America’s traditional Arab allies.

By Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute

On the eve of U.S. President Joe Biden’s first visit to the Middle East since taking office, many Arabs have expressed hope that he will realize the importance of America’s partnership with the Gulf states and the immense dangers that Iran poses to their security and stability.

The Arabs are also saying that they want Biden to understand that over the years, the Gulf states have changed for the better and that if he wants to maintain America’s strategic partnership with its Arab allies and friends, it is important in this culture that he show respect.

The Arabs are telling Biden: Stay away from the mullahs of Iran; stop the appeasement of the Iranian regime, do not rush into making another nuclear deal that threatens the national security of the entire region and beyond, and please notice that some of the Arab countries have changed markedly and have new leaders who deserve to be involved politely and treated as real allies, not as enemies.

In an open letter to Biden, prominent Emirati author and political analyst Abdul Khaleq Abdullah wrote that Biden would greatly benefit from working towards strengthening the partnership between the U.S. and the Gulf states to move it to new and promising strategic horizons. “The Arab Gulf states live next to a difficult Iranian neighbor that poses the greatest threat to the security and stability of the region,” Abdullah wrote.

“Iran has a revolutionary and sectarian agenda and is rapidly moving to build huge nuclear and missile capabilities. Iran supports with money and weapons terrorist militias that tamper with the security and stability of the region and direct their terrorist activities against the Arab Gulf states,” he added.

Abdullah pointed out that the Gulf states are concerned about Washington’s appeasement of Iran and its “uncalculated rush” to sign the nuclear agreement.

“The Arab Gulf states are the closest to Iran and understand Tehran more than others, and inevitably more than America, so you [Biden] should listen carefully to their legitimate concerns about Iranian expansion rather than push them to accept a nuclear agreement that consolidates Iran’s hegemony and reinforces its plans to become the policeman of the Arab Gulf,” he wrote.

‘Speak about Gulf states with respect’

The Emirati political analyst said that it was time for America to reconcile with a new geopolitical reality: there is a new Arab Gulf that is confident in itself and its present and future and knows how to employ its oil, gas and sovereign funds to serve its national interests.

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“They [the Americans] have not yet reconciled with the fact that this Arabian Gulf is different from the Gulf of the 20th century… If you come with the mentality of dealing with the old Arabian Gulf, you need to know in advance that your visit will be incomplete and unhelpful and it may be better to stay in Washington.

“During your visit to the region, you will meet the new leaders of the Arab Gulf states, who are as old as your children, and some of them are as old as your grandchildren. You will find all of them very warmly welcoming, but it may be useful to realize that their world is different from yours and that their confidence in America has recently been shaken.

“The new Arab Gulf leaders are convinced that the time has come for a different, and inevitably, balanced partnership.”

The Gulf states, he continued, understand that oil is what prompted Biden to visit the region.

“It is okay to be frank in admitting this, instead of covering your visit with contradictory statements that are sometimes funny and not befitting the leader of a superpower,” Abdullah suggested.

“The Arab Gulf states may be willing to meet the request of the American partner to raise the ceiling of oil production, but there is a price that America must pay, and the most important price is for it to speak from now on about the Gulf states and their leaders with respect, and recognize the importance of these countries in the new world order.”

Obama chose Iran

Saudi author Mohammed Faisal Al-Dosseri wrote that the U.S.-Arab rapprochement will pose several challenges to Iran, especially the weakening of the terrorist militias affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which will affect the Iranian military presence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Al-Dosseri expressed hope that the rapprochement between the U.S. and the Gulf states would constitute a major blow to Iran, presumably before Iran deals a major blow to the Gulf states.

“Restoring U.S.-Arab relations to their normal course will open the door to economic and military cooperation, including arms deals that were hampered by President Biden’s assumption of power,” he argued. “This will weaken Iran’s influence in the region and force it to reconsider its current strategy, which is based on the principle of escalation and interference in affairs of the region as a whole.”

He predicted that Iran’s mullahs would try to obstruct the U.S.-Arab rapprochement by preoccupying the Biden administration with other issues, such as renewed violence and tensions in Iraq or a new war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Lebanese journalist Ali Hamade said that the crisis that erupted in the past few years between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia had prompted the Kingdom and America’s historical Arab allies to search for new paths in their international relations.

The crisis, Hamade wrote, has led to the maturation of a special Saudi foreign policy based on valuing the relationship with the U.S., but not at any cost, and on the basis of taking into account the interests of the Kingdom and its national security.

“Saudi Arabia’s national security has been endangered since the signing of the Iranian nuclear agreement in 2015, when Washington did not take into account the security of Saudi Arabia as its most important ally,” he remarked. “Former President Barack Obama’s presidency was known for departing from the historical alliance with the Arabs and preferring the so-called Iranian option.”

Hamade pointed out that since Biden came to the White House, the Saudi leadership has been exposed to negative policies, from the offensive electoral promises made by Biden against the Kingdom, to restricting Saudi arms purchases for defensive purposes, removing Yemen’s Houthi militia from the U.S. terrorist list, and practicing political blackmail from some pillars of the administration and Democratic Party over the issue of the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Biden administration, the Lebanese journalist said, chose to rush towards Tehran to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement at the expense of the security of America’s allies in the Middle East. “When we talk about allies, we do not mean Saudi Arabia alone, but all the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt and Jordan,” Hamade clarified. “The important thing today is that the crisis brought to light a firm, solid, conscious, mature, and experienced Saudi leadership.”

Will US lose its Arab friends and allies?

Lebanese-American professor and author Walid Phares wrote:

“From the Iranian perspective, that is, from the perspective of the regime in Tehran, the rapprochement between the Biden administration and the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, even if it is limited, slow, or for relative goals, constitutes a major challenge to Iran’s hegemony in the region.”

The Iranian leadership, Phares said, “considered that the return of the U.S. to the negotiating table in Vienna, and the growing influence of the Iranian lobby in Washington since the return of Barack Obama’s policy to the White House, constituted a guarantee for the advancement of the most appropriate agenda for Iran.”

The Iranian regime, he also pointed out, “considered the gradual escalation between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt with the U.S. administration a victory for its policy.”

The Arabs are obviously aware that Iran will try to thwart any effort to improve relations between the U.S. and the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia.

Biden, in the view of many Arabs, should be appropriately firm in dealing with the Iranian threat and restore the confidence of America’s traditional Arab allies.

If the Biden administration persists in its policy of appeasement towards Iran, according to these commentators, not only is the U.S. unlikely to see peace and security in our time, but it could end up losing all its friends and allies in the Arab world.