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8 August 2023
Middle East Geopolitics
A high-level Iraqi delegation, headed by Defense Minister Thabit Mohammed Al Abbassi, began an official visitto the United States yesterday. The United States and Iraq are hoping to take critical steps to expand their partnership from one focused almost entirely on countering the Islamic State militant group to one some U.S. officials describe as a 360-degree whole-of-government alliance. Defense officials and diplomats from both countries met at the Pentagon Monday for the start of two days of talks that include a meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Iraqi Minister of Defense Thabit Muhammad al Abbasi. Last month, a Russian fighter jet had a near-miss with a manned American surveillance craft, after several incidents involving unmanned drones, while the United States has deployed advanced F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in a bid to deter Iran in the Strait of Hormuz all underlying the perils of adding US forces in the Middle East according to Military.com as tensions escalate between the United States, Russia and Iran in the Middle East.
In Libya, things have stablized enough thatBP and Eni, as well as Algeria’s Sonatrach have returned to Libya after lifting a force majeure that forced them out of the North African country. In a statement, Libya’s National Oil Corporation said that BP and Eni had notified it about lifting the force majeure and returning to fulfill their contractual obligations in several onshore and offshore blocks the Libyan government had previously awarded to them. Amid the furor over the question of Israeli visa free entry to America, the US is quietly inspecting Israeli crossings for its Palestine dual-nationals to ensure that its citizens are being allowed to enter Israel without discrimination based on their Palestinian origins. Middle East Monitor reports that US observers are in Israel this week to discreetly assess conditions at its border crossings for Palestinian-Americans as part of an emerging Israeli-US visa waiver deal, four officials said. The officials, who declined to be identified by name or nationality, said the delegation visited Israel's immigration office on Sunday, Ben Gurion Airport on Monday and would, on Tuesday, tour checkpoints on the Occupied West Bank's boundaries. In return for visa-free access for Israelis, Washington has demanded that Israel provide reciprocal unfettered passage for Americans, regardless of their background. According to the Grey Lady, President Biden’s envoys arepushing aheadwith their effort to realign Middle East politics by brokering the establishment of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel despite significant concessions demanded by the Saudi monarchy. Biden sent Jake Sullivan, his national security adviser, along with top Middle East foreign policy advisor Brett McGurk and energy guru and deal maker extraordinaire Amos Hochstein back to Saudi Arabia in recent days, the second high level trip there in less than three months, as U.S. officials test the ground for anagreement bringing together two historic adversaries and fundamentally reshaping the region. As the Biden administration tries to create a historic foreign policy success to establish its credentials prior to the 2024 US election, the commentary from the media is mostly negative. Jon Hoffman, Jordan Cohen And Jonathan Ellis Allen in The Hill are boldly claiming that what we are seeing is a disaster unfolding (Biden steamrolls toward disaster in the Middle East) in his attempt at going where no U.S. president has dared go by signing a mutual security pact with Saudi Arabia in return for Riyadh normalizing relations with Israel. Middle East Eye, perhaps predictably, has argued that this is all about denying the Palestinians their rights, while Al Jazeera notes that the potential deal is based on the notion that the cause of the conflict is the failure of Arab states to recognize Israel, rather than the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. Thomas Friedman in the NYT outlined the parameters of the deal based on his discussions with President Biden. Those are: Saudi recognition of Israel in return for a NATO-level security alliance, a civilian nuclear program under US supervision, more advanced US weapons systems for the Saudis; and in return Biden would expect Israeli actions to preserve the possibility of a two-state solution as part of this deal, along with serious buy-in from the Palestinian leadership. Writing in theJerusalem PostMicah Halpern expresses great skepticism that a deal is possible, due to the state of Israel’s government, concluding that “There is no doubt that Israel would like a deal with Saudi Arabia, any deal with Saudi Arabia. But the coalition partners will not permit compromise – and deals require compromise.”
We don't want to make a bet on the likelihood of a Saudi-Israeli diplomatic breakthrough, though we do think that if we have learned anything over the past few years, it's that anything is possible in Middle East politics.