ANALYSIS: Joe Biden’s First Major Gaffes in the Middle East

Israel and the Gulf states reportedly considering new regional alliance to sidestep US intervention

By Yochanan Visser | | Topics: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Biden
Biden has made a mess of the Middle East so far
Photo: EPA-EFE/Samuel Corum

Over the weekend, the United States took real action in the Middle East for the first time since Joe Biden was sworn in at the end of January.

First, US warplanes attacked Iranian-backed militias in eastern Syria after these mainly Shiite militias belonging to the Hashd al-Sha’abi umbrella organization launched a rocket attack on the Kurdish city of Erbil killing an American contractor.

There were conflicting reports about the number of casualties with the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claiming that the US airstrike killed 17 militiamen in the bombardment.

Only last week, Iraq-based Iranian-backed Shiite militias attacked US military and diplomatic facilities in Iraq three times with rockets supplied by Iran.

The uptick in rocket attacks on US assets in Iraq is clearly meant as a test for the Biden Administration, and Iran is probably behind it.

After all, the Iranians saw what Biden did with their Yemenite proxy Ansar Allah, or the “Houthis” as the international media calls the mainly Shiite militia, and what Biden is doing with long-time US ally Saudi Arabia. (See: Iran-Backed Houthis Threaten Israeli Shipping)

Biden took the Ansar Allah militia off the US list of foreign terror organizations and announced last week that relations with Saudi Arabia would see “significant changes” after the new US Administration published a declassified report regarding the gruesome murder of American-Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey in October 2018.

The report dates back to 2019 and was written by US intelligence officials who said that it was “highly unlikely” that the murder would have taken place without the approval of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS.

Before the publication of the report, Biden already announced he would only communicate with the ailing 85-year-old Saudi King Salman and not with MBS, who is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia and controls the security forces.

Indeed, Biden called the King last week, and re-assured him about America’s “commitment to help Saudi Arabia to defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian aligned groups.”

Biden later informed the public about the content of his conversation with King Salman and announced that his Administration would hold Saudi Arabia “accountable for human rights abuses.” He added that the US is doing this “all over the world.”


World police?

There are several serious problems with Biden’s statements about US commitment to Saudi Arabia’s security and, about America’s role as human rights preserver “all over the world.”

First of all, Biden’s action vis-à-vis Ansar Allah immediately led to an increase of the militia’s drone and rocket attacks on Saudi Arabia. The latest Ansar Allah attempt to hit Saudi population centers came on Sunday morning when Saudi air defenses intercepted five drones and one ballistic missile that the Shiite group had launched from Yemen.

The Biden Administration didn’t comment on the latest Ansar Allah attack against Saudi Arabia, raising questions over whether or not the US really is still committed to Saudi Arabia’s security.


Brazen maritime attack

In fact, Biden’s decisions about Yemen and Saudi Arabia can be seen as a present to Iran, which continues to provoke the West and Israel by attacking or hijacking Western ships in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

Last Thursday night, a large Israeli-owned ship was hit by what appeared to be missiles while sailing through the Gulf of Oman. The projectiles punched a number of holes in the port and starboard sides of the vessel, but didn’t hit the engine room.

The ship, MV Helios Ray, is owned by Abraham (Rami) Ungar, one of the richest people in Israel. Ungar registered the vessel in the Bahamas, but the Iranians must have known that the MV Helios Ray was an Israeli vessel.

The crew of the Helios Ray were unharmed, and the ship was able to turn around and sail to Dubai, where it docked on Saturday for repairs and an investigation by Israeli security experts.

Israel Defense Minister Benny Gantz told the media that he suspected that Iran had attacked the Israeli ship after an expert from Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, had said that it was highly likely that the holes were the result of “asymmetric activity by the Iranian military.”


Strategic threat

Then there is another very worrying development in the now more than five-year-old Yemenite war that started right after Biden announced that he would remove Ansar Allah from the US list of terror organizations.

The Iranian proxy began a massive assault on the Marib region in north Yemen a couple of days after Biden’s announcement. Marib is an area with large gas reserves that is still controlled by the official government, which is led by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour.

If Marib falls into the hands of Ansar Allah, chances are high that the militia will win the war in Yemen and bring the country into Iran’s Shiite Crescent. If that happens, Iran will gain control over the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which is a very important choke point in the Persian Gulf.

Almost ten percent of the global oil supply passes Bab el-Mandeb yearly and Iran would love to have control over the small waterway because that would mean the Islamic Republic could disrupt oil supply to the West.

As we reported earlier, the Iranian proxy in Yemen is also threatening Israel with its Iran-supplied missile arsenal. Israeli military experts expect that Iran will use all of its proxies in a future war with Israel, and that includes Ansar Allah.


Singling out Riyadh

Then there are Biden’s comments and actions regarding Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

The Khashoggi murder was indeed a shocking example of the Kingdom’s dismal human rights record, but singling out and punishing Saudi Arabia while at the same trying to engage again with Iran, another Middle Eastern nation that is abusing human rights on a massive scale, suggests that Biden does not have a comprehensive Middle East strategy.

Saudi Arabia is a very important player in the effort to stop Iran from forming its Shiite Crescent and to taking over additional countries in the Middle East. The Kingdom has the means to contribute a lot when it comes to confronting Iran’s belligerent activities in the region.

Biden’s team is made up largely of ex-Obama officials who look at the Middle East through their American lenses, but don’t understand the inner workings of this complex region, and thus prioritize issues such as human rights records. At the same time, Biden is silent on the massive human rights abuses committed by countries like Iran and Egypt.

For this reason, Israel together with Saudi Arabia and its new partners in the Gulf region are now reportedly talking about forming their own coalition against Iran. These countries will try to form a block that will emphasize that Western players can no longer decide the future of the Middle East.

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