“The US policy does not take into account how entrenched the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem has become. Israeli settlement growth in the West Bank has made a viable Palestinian state all but impossible. The US-led talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization have been on hiatus since President Barack Obama’s second term, and even at the time, there was little hope that they would amount to much. And Arab states like Morocco, UAE, and Bahrain have abandoned Palestinians, as they normalize relations with the State of Israel and eliminate any incentives for negotiations toward a Palestinian state.
Even establishment voices like former Ambassador Martin Indyk, who served as Obama’s Middle East envoy and is now a fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, acknowledge that a one-state reality has set in.
To be fair, figuring out a new policy toward Israel and Palestine is no easy task. The US has come to be so dependent on Israel as a close security partner in the Middle East that it seemingly has overlooked its transgressions. Moreover, US politicians are reluctant to overhaul its approach and rankle influential domestic constituencies in the process.
But no good policy can rest on an outdated understanding of the facts on the ground. Clinging to a two-state solution that many leading Middle East experts do not view as workable is counterproductive and cedes US leadership. A commitment to a Palestinian state in name only cheapens and undermines its very possibility and boxes out the development of more practical policies that meet the moment. It leaves the US with few options in taking a leadership role in a place that’s central to US national interests and security.”
“Chinese state-owned firms are building up their presence near the Strait of Hormuz in the Middle East, a new report says, raising the risks of a future clash with U.S. interests in one of the world’s busiest oil transitways.
The growing footprint of Chinese commercial activity in the area, including billions of dollars in investments in oil pipelines and storage terminals alongside the Persian Gulf, is fueling worries from U.S. national security hawks who fear it could provide Beijing with dangerous influence over a major choke point for petroleum shipments.”
“China has previously used spending on pipelines, ports and other commercial facilities to pave the way for military bases near strategic locations such as the mouth of the Red Sea, the CSIS authors write. Now, China’s investment in regional ports and infrastructure in Oman and the United Arab Emirates could provide an entry point for Chinese naval ships in the strait. Such ships already travel nearby waters to patrol against pirate vessels.”
““Everything in the private industry in China is somewhat connected to the larger CCP or the PLA,” said the official, who was granted anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to be quoted in the media. “Even if you’re a private company, you might be called upon by the Chinese government to share intel.””
“The goal is to send National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems to Ukraine in the next three to six months, CEO Greg Hayes said in an interview. The U.S. would then backfill those systems with new NASAMS in the Middle East over the next 24 months.
“There are NASAMS deployed across the Middle East, and some of our NATO allies and we [the U.S.] are actually working with a couple of Middle Eastern countries that currently employ NASAMS and trying to direct those back up to Ukraine,” Hayes said.
He noted that shifting systems from the Middle East is faster than building them in the U.S. “Just because it takes 24 months to build, it doesn’t mean it’s going to take 24 months to get in [the] country,” he said.”
It takes two years to build NASAMS because of the lead time required to buy electronic components and rocket motors, Hayes said.”
“Gross’s take is straightforward: Arab states are simply pursuing their self-interest in keeping oil prices high. She cautioned against seeing the OPEC+ decision as a choice by the group between the US and Russia. Today is not like the Cold War, when many Middle Eastern states balanced between Washington and Moscow, seeking to extract maximum benefits from both superpowers and hedging in case either bloc won.
Besides, although the cut might boost oil prices, Gross says the prospects for Russia’s future oil revenues are potentially quite dim, as the G7 and the European Union prepare to implement new measures that could substantially reduce Putin’s proceeds from oil. Moreover, the actual production cut is likely to be around 1 million barrels per day — not 2 million — because many OPEC+ members weren’t meeting their quotas anyway, according to Gross.”
“The 2015 nuclear deal, struck during Barack Obama’s presidency, lifted an array of U.S. sanctions on Iran in exchange for major restraints on its nuclear program. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, saying it was too weak and too narrow and he reimposed the sanctions while adding new ones. After about a year, Iran began violating the terms of the deal, including by enriching uranium to high levels and shutting out inspectors.
President Joe Biden has sought to rejoin the deal — he and his aides argued that it remains the best vehicle to contain an Iranian nuclear threat. Over nearly a year and a half, a period that included some long pauses, Biden’s emissaries have engaged in indirect talks with Iranian officials about reviving the agreement.
The two sides, whose discussions have been mediated primarily by European officials, have tangled on a variety of thorny topics. Those include: whether the U.S. will rescind Trump’s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; the fate of a probe by the International Atomic Energy Agency into traces of nuclear materials at various Iranian sites; and Iranian demands for certain guarantees that the lifting of sanctions will lead to economic benefits — and that the U.S. won’t pull out of the deal under a different president.
Biden has said he will not rescind the IRGC’s terrorism designation, and the IAEA has indicated it will not give up on the probe.
Iran recently responded to a European draft proposal on reviving the deal with comments mostly focused on sanctions and economic guarantees. U.S. officials have been looking at the Iranian demands and preparing their own response, which may be sent to European negotiators later this week.
The U.S. has been consulting allies, among them Israel, before sending its response, though it wasn’t immediately clear if it would wait until after Gantz’s meeting with Sullivan.
“At every step of the process, we have been in touch with our Israeli partners to update them on where we are, to compare notes on the state of Iran’s nuclear program,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday.
The Israeli officials are making their push at a sensitive time: the country, currently being overseen by a caretaker government, will soon hold its fifth election in less than four years.
The main internal debate among U.S. negotiators has been about the economic guarantees sought by Iran, said Ali Vaez, a top Iran analyst with the International Crisis Group. Those guarantees deal in part with Iran’s concerns that even if the 2015 deal is revived, foreign companies will consider it too risky to invest in the country. Even when the deal was in full force, many foreign firms were hesitant to do business in Iran.
For Israel’s political leaders, an Iran whose economy is stronger is an Iran that is a bigger threat to their country’s existence. Iran’s rulers consider Israel an illegitimate state, and some have predicted its eventual doom.
Israeli political leaders’ argument against the nuclear deal often boils down to concerns that, if the U.S. lifts sanctions on Iran, the regime will use the incoming cash to engage even more in an array of unsavory activities, including funding and arming terrorist groups that target Israel.”
“some Israelis in the security establishment — often retired officers with more freedom to speak out — have broken with their political leaders on this issue. They argue that, as imperfect as the nuclear deal may be, it’s better than having no restraints on or surveillance of Iran’s program.”
“At present, Iran’s breakout time — the amount of time needed to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon — is believed to be a few weeks. Under a restored deal, it would likely be around six months. Under the original 2015 agreement, it was estimated at around a year.”
“Severe setbacks for the two-state solution have made US policy seem far-fetched at this point.
That reality came across in Biden’s remarks. “We’ll discuss my continued support — even though I know it’s not in the near term — a two-state solution,” he said upon his arrival this week. He conceded that such an outcome was elusive, while still clinging to it.
A number of factors have contributed to the declining prospects for an independent Palestinian state. Not enough US diplomatic muscle has been put into making the deal happen. The recently disbanded Israeli government didn’t even agree to it as policy (and the previous prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t really, either). Divisions between the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza have detracted from the Palestine Liberation Organization’s authority and legitimacy as a negotiating partner. And wealthy Arab states, like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, have prioritized normalizing relationships with Israel — which come with economic and tech cooperation, defense business, and weapons sales — at the expense of Palestinian rights.
But the largest by far is the rampant expansion of settlements in the West Bank that has precluded Palestinians from living there.”
“Israeli forces launched a preemptive strike against PIJ targets on August 5, Reuters reported, after one of the group’s leaders, Bassam al-Saadi, was arrested in the Occupied West Bank. Israel claims to have hit a number of PIJ targets. However, several civilians, including 17 children, were killed in the clashes, both by Israeli weapons and possibly by errant PIJ rockets intended for Israeli targets. A ceasefire brokered by Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, the US, the UN, and the Palestinian Authority between Israel and the PIJ last Sunday has thus far held; however, an attack on worshipers in Jerusalem’s Old City late on Sunday could portend more violence. At least eight people, including US citizens, were injured in the attack, which was allegedly carried out by a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, according to Israeli authorities. They have not yet released his name, and there is no indication that he is affiliated with any larger group, according to Reuters.
Despite the ceasefire, the aftermath of even short-term hostilities in Gaza goes far beyond active bombardments and shelling; the combination of years of violence, a brutal blockade, and state repression has created an enduring crisis. What’s more, there’s little chance to recover before violence breaks out again.
According to initial UN reporting, 360 Palestinians have been injured in the fighting, and Gazans experienced a tightened Israeli blockade of goods and services that led to 20-plus-hour rolling blackouts each day. There were no Israeli deaths or serious injuries, the Associated Press reported”
“The Gaza strip is home to around 2 million Palestinians and has been governed by Hamas since 2007, when the group took control from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank. The two groups have had no success in creating a unity government over the past 15 years, despite repeated attempts, weakening the Palestinian resistance and further disenfranchising ordinary Palestinians. Although Fatah and Hamas agreed to hold elections in 2021, which would be the first since 2006, those elections have been postponed indefinitely.”
“Though Biden appears willing to overlook Khashoggi’s death in order to shore up America’s access to Saudi oil, he is at least on record as explicitly having condemned that murder. At a November 2019 primary debate, Biden said he would “make [Saudi Arabia] the pariah that they are” and stop arms sales to the Middle Eastern nation. A month after Biden took office, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines released a government report confirming that the Crown Prince directed the assassination. The administration also delayed most weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, in light of its continued involvement in Yemen’s brutal civil war.”
“For many Middle East analysts, Biden’s trip signals pragmatism. “A successful foreign policy for a global power such as the US cannot choose values over interests,” wrote Council of Foreign Relations president Richard Haass in a recent article. “What the Biden administration is contemplating in Saudi Arabia appears to be righting the balance.””
“Biden, who says he went to the Middle East to address “the needs of the free world,” has explained the strengthening of relationships with Arab states and Israel as a success.
But it’s worth taking a look at what concrete victories that closeness produced.
Saudi airspace will be opened to Israeli planes — an incremental step toward normalizing relations between the two countries, yes, but more of a victory for jetliner rights than human rights. A new peacekeeping arrangement was announced for the Red Sea Islands between Egypt and Saudi Arabia; the islands have been a regional geopolitical touchpoint, but the deal is hardly a major win beyond the region. There was talk of bringing Iraq closer to its neighbors, with a new electricity initiative to connect Iraq with the Middle East. Infrastructure projects totaling about $100 million were announced for Palestinians, including 4G networks for the occupied West Bank. The latter two, while worthwhile, are minor compared to other US development and foreign aid streams of funding — and minuscule compared to annual military aid to Israel.
A moderate success was Saudi Arabia’s ongoing commitment to maintaining a ceasefire in Yemen, a worthy goal considering the destruction wrought there, in part with the support of American weaponry, though hardly an issue that demanded a presidential visit.
As for oil, we haven’t seen any grand announcements. Ahead of the trip, a US official told reporters there wouldn’t be any big energy news, and instead pointed to an announcement a month prior from OPEC that the group of oil-producing nations would increase production.
It has left observers wondering exactly why Biden made the journey.”
“A senior Biden administration official, on the last day of Biden’s Middle East trip, described human rights at the center of America’s goals — “I’d go so far, literally, to say right at the forefront of our foreign policy,” they said.
But human rights is not even at the forefront of the administration’s press releases, fact sheets, and meeting summaries.
The official touted a “Biden doctrine” for the region. In the document, values rank lowest — fifth — after bullet points about partnerships, deterrence, diplomacy, and integration. So partnerships (with unsavory leaders) and deterrence (through our security assistance) are the priorities here.”
“This Biden trip is a preview of US foreign policy in an era of great power competition with China and new fault lines of a world divided by Russian aggression. There are trade-offs. “You sanction Russian oil, and you give power to Middle Eastern autocrats,” Khalidi told me. “The only reason he’s sidling up to these human rights abusers is because of the knock-on effects of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, and the energy impact of that invasion.”
Or, as Freeman put it, “The message to the people in the region is we only care about you in the context of our great power rivalry.”
Despite the emphasis on Russia, there was little movement on solidifying a Middle East coalition in support of Ukraine. The United Arab Emirates is a major hub for Russian businesspeople and dirty money, and that seems unlikely to change. Egypt is a hot spot for Russian tourists. Saudi Arabia and Israel are still fence-sitters in the Ukraine conflict, hesitant to definitively take a side. While Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE voted to condemn Russia’s invasion in the UN resolution, none has joined the US-led sanctions against Moscow.
Yet all of these regional powers are making demands of the US to take a harder line on Iran and enable them militarily. (Wait, wouldn’t realpolitik be crafting a deal with Iran, and getting more oil production online in the process?)”