The secret negotiations between the administration of the President of the United States Joe Biden between Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and which were revealed this morning in Walla !, are entering the decisive moments these days. The next three weeks will be critical in trying to reach understandings that will regulate sovereignty over the islands of Tiran and the Red Sea, and will advance Saudi Arabia’s normalization measures toward Israel.

Meanwhile, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met today (Tuesday) with a delegation of members of the US Congress. The Saudi news agency reported that at the meeting the parties discussed the friendly relations between the two countries and a number of “common interest” issues.

why is it important

  • Saudi Arabia has always been the crown jewel for Israeli prime ministers who have tried to promote normalization with the kingdom, which is not only the most important Arab state, but also the most important Muslim state, in whose territory the holy cities of Mecca and Medina are located.
  • Normalization measures on the part of Saudi Arabia, even if modest and gradual, will constitute a significant political message to the world and the region. Arab and Muslim leaders from Indonesia in the east to Mauritania in the west, may draw encouragement from this and feel that they have the spirit to advance themselves to normalization with Israel.

Behind the Scenes

  • In the last day, before the publication in Walla! And after that, there were several conversations between senior officials in Prime Minister Bennett’s office and senior officials in the White House to coordinate moves and messages and make sure that the negotiations would continue even after it was publicly revealed.
  • Senior Israeli and American officials said that contacts with the Saudis were very sensitive and discreet – especially due to the Saudi fear of internal criticism as well as criticism from Iran and anti-Saudi elements in the Arab world.
Bennett at Cabinet Meeting (Photo: Olivier Fitoussi, Flash 90)

between the lines

  • If the American mediation between Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt succeeds and a deal is reached that also includes normalization measures with Israel, it will be a significant achievement of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid who pushed the Americans to promote such a move from their first day in office.
  • Bennett and Lapid’s fragile coalition will not be out of danger as a result of such an achievement, but it may well lead to an increase in public support for the government – perhaps also from those on the right and left who have been disappointed with its performance in recent months.

The big picture

  • The White House wants to reach a larger package deal with Saudi Arabia that will strengthen the US position in the Middle East but also have a positive impact on the American economy. At the heart of this deal is Saudi oil.
  • Biden wants the Saudis to increase oil production. This is important to him in light of the war in Ukraine and the sanctions he wants to impose on Russian oil, but most of all because rising oil prices are adversely affecting the US economy.
  • In the run-up to the US general election, Biden needs any improvement in the US economic situation. A Saudi statement of intent to increase oil production in a few months’ time will also bring down prices and help the US president.

Update

  • All the pieces of this puzzle are supposed to work out in preparation for Biden’s arrival in the Middle East towards the end of June. At this point at least things seem to be progressing well and there is a reasonable chance that the Americans will succeed in achieving most of their goals.

What next

If things do work out, Biden will also visit Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, during his visit. He needs all of these accomplishments to explain to large sections of his party and the American public why he is traveling to a country that until a year and a half ago he called a “rebellious country” amid human rights violations.

Biden is looking for a way to reach Saudi Arabia without giving sweeping legitimacy to Regent Muhammad bin Salman that U.S. intelligence services believe he is the one who ordered the assassination of Jamal Khushkji and dismembered his body at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

One possibility is that Biden will meet King Salman and Prince Muhammad will also sit in a room next to his father. In this way Biden will provide the Saudi regent with what he wants – the start of public opinion training – but will still maintain a certain distance from him.

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