Joe Biden may have made it obvious that the Middle East is not a top priority for his administration: Ukraine, China, and the US midterm elections are all more pressing matters. But when the Air Force One landed in Tel Aviv on 13 July afternoon for his first trip to the region as president, Biden was about to see a swiftly evolving – and still unpredictable – section of the world.
Another shocking inflation figure released on July 12th, together with widespread dissatisfaction with the health of the US economy and Joe Biden’s leadership of it, highlighted the serious difficulties facing Democrats in the run-up to this year’s crucial midterm election.
In June, inflation jumped to a fresh 40-year high of 9.1% when compared to the prior year. American households are being squeezed by the growing cost of petrol, gasoline, and rent, which puts pressure on the Federal Reserve to hike interest rates even higher. The grim statistics were made public as the US president touched down in the Middle East for a crucial trip. They were mostly influenced by rising energy costs.
And unlike the energy supplies from Russia and Ukraine, oil is flowing from the Gulf to the rest of the world. As gas prices rise in the US and the midterm elections get near, the administration has been pleading with the Gulf States to maintain ample oil supply. White House officials mention that “energy security” is one of the subjects, despite their claims that the trip is unrelated to oil.
In order to alleviate the energy crisis brought on by Russia’s “military intervention” inside Ukraine, Biden’s major objective was to persuade Saudi Arabia that the world needs to increase oil supplies. He spent two days in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, but following that, he flew straight to Jeddah, indicating a huge change: Israel’s metamorphosis from a regional pariah to a partner for many Arab states.
Upon landing in Tel Aviv for the first leg of a three-day tour to the Middle East, Joe Biden declared that the US is dedicated to Israel’s security. The trip was intended to strengthen connections between the majority-Jewish state and the Arab world as the area faces a common adversary in Iran.
News of expanding defense cooperation between Israel and a number of its neighbors to tackle the threat presented by the burgeoning military might of Iran and its proxies in the area has dominated the week leading up to Biden’s visit.
As well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, nations with which Israel does not have formal diplomatic ties, Bahrain, Jordan, and Egypt were reportedly among the nations represented in covert negotiations with Israeli military officials earlier this year in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. The Abraham accords, agreements between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan enabled by the Trump administration, are the foundation of the improving ties between two of the most powerful countries in the Middle East.
It is, nonetheless, widely believed that the president’s travel to the Saudi city of Jeddah is more significant than his stops in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
As a result of the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, Biden dubbed the kingdom a “pariah.” However, he was forced to rebuild relations with the Saudi royal family as part of efforts to stabilize the oil markets after the conflict in Ukraine and halt the Gulf state’s hedonism towards China and Russia. American media house CNN went on to publish satellite imageries detailing Chinese involvement in developing ballistic missile manufacturing facilities inside Saudi Arabia, underscoring Saudi Arabia’s deep interest in pivoting for multipolarity in the region. Both Russia and China are expected to play enhanced role in the NEOM, the dream project of Saudi Crown Prince that is likely to change the face of Saudi Arabia forever.
An oil-for-security agreement between Washington and Riyadh that has lasted almost 50 years and constituted a key component of the post-World War II international order has been overturned by the growing alliance between Russia and the Saudis, which is based on their enormous potential for oil production.
The Saudis disregarded Western requests to export more oil before and during Russian intervention in Ukraine, which helped drive up world prices to about $140 per barrel in March and have largely remained above $100 per barrel since late February.
At a time when the majority of the industrialized world was shunning the young Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, Russian President Vladimir Putin grew closer to him personally. In contrast, Mr. Biden has never spoken to or met Prince Mohammed and has vowed on the campaign trail to treat Saudi Arabia like a “pariah” as a result of the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi authorities assert that they are dedicated to deliberating over energy matters with Russia and through the OPEC+ alliance. High prices both help Russia’s government pay for the Ukraine war and hurt the West’s economy.
The 13 countries that make up OPEC+ are joined by 10 additional oil producers, including 10 countries under the leadership of Russia. It produces over half of the world’s oil output collectively and has 90% of the reserves.
Russian and Saudi officials claim that OPEC+ is now a cornerstone of their international policies. Plans for expanded trade and investment between the two nations reflect what Saudi authorities claim is Prince Mohammed’s general turn away from the West, which also includes a greater focus on China. In order to avoid having to implement harsh crude production cuts when oil prices rise too high for Washington’s taste, Saudi Arabia benefits from its alliance with Russia. Even an apparent standoff between Russia and Saudi Arabia back in 2020 sunk US shale oil industries, which are yet to recover.
The latest data on rising cheap Russian oil sales to Riyadh released by Reuters on 15 July, when US President touched down in Saudi city Jeddah and welcomed by a regional governor in a low key affair, stringently highlights that US is unlikely to achieve anything strategic in Washington’s favor from Saudi Arabia through this visit. When US president confronted the Crown Prince about Jamal Khasoggi murder, Mohammad Bin Salman hit back on US mistakes in the Middle East, after clarifying on the case of the dissident journalist.
The rising shipments of fuel oil to Saudi Arabia, which is used to generate electricity, highlight the difficulty facing U.S. President Joe Biden and his team as they work to isolate Russia and reduce its energy export profits. China, India, and a number of countries in Africa and the Middle East have expanded imports from Russia while many other countries have prohibited or discouraged such purchases.
A strong push from the president is unlikely to succeed in persuading the Saudi leadership to pump new crude supplies into the global oil market which is skyrocketing since the beginning of Ukraine conflict. Even though Saudi Arabia is home to some of the greatest oil reserves in the world, it is uncertain if it could increase output quickly enough to make a significant difference. According to Bob McNally, head of the analyst firm Rapidan Energy and a National Security Council international energy adviser during the George W. Bush administration, Saudi Arabia, as well as UAE have signaled to Washington to expect less on oil. US President is also unlikely to achieve any of his goals on dissuading the Arab countries away from Russia on Ukraine and Syria, despite his Washington Post article opined to do so. Despite a joint communiqué released by Washington, where Saudi pledged to stabilize world oil market, Saudi Arabia is unlikely to forget or forgive the snubbing by US president so soon and stick to the rising multipolar norm in the region.