Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz
Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin during a US-Russia Summit, June 16, 2021, in Geneva.

The Biden administration may have lost interest in the Middle East, but it is not a sentiment that is shared by rival powers such as China and Russia.

While U.S. President Joe Biden has shown nothing but contempt for long-standing allies in the region, both China and Moscow have been quick to exploit Washington’s wilful neglect to their own advantage.


By far the most startling change to the political landscape of the Middle East has been Beijing’s role in negotiating the restoration of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, two countries that, until recently, were sworn enemies.

Relations have been strained between Tehran and Riyadh since the 1979 Islamic Revolution established the ayatollahs’ deeply repressive regime, with Iran’s clerical dictatorship regularly claiming that the Saudi royal family were unfit custodians of the two holy sites at Mecca and Medina.

One of the more outrageous Iranian attacks was a failed attempt to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the US, Adel al-Jubair, in a bomb attack on an upmarket restaurant in Washington DC in 2011, which was later found to have been organised by Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

Tensions between the two countries have escalated dramatically in recent years after an Iranian mob stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran in 2016 and set it ablaze, prompting the Saudis to cut diplomatic ties. Since then the two countries have been involved in a bitter proxy war in Yemen, with the Iranians providing funds and weaponry to the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition supporting the country’s democratically-elected government.

Despite the intense hostility that exists between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which is exacerbated by their respective devotion to the competing traditions of Shia and Sunni Islam, Tehran and Riyadh have made the surprise move of restoring diplomatic relations in an initiative orchestrated by Beijing.

In the absence of any desire on the part of the Biden administration to support the Saudis — for decades one of Washington’s most important allies in the region — China has moved quickly to fill the diplomatic vacuum to launch its own initiative to restore ties with Iran.

Following intense discussions between the two sides in Beijing last month involving senior security officials, the two sides agreed to a China-brokered agreement to restore diplomatic relations, whereby they undertake to reopen their respective embassies within two months and refrain from interfering in each other’s domestic affairs.

Given the long-standing enmity that exists between the two countries, it is hard to envisage relations between Riyadh and Tehran moving beyond observing the basic diplomatic protocols so long as Iran’s ayatollahs remain in power.

The only tangible gain that is likely to emerge from the deal is a lasting ceasefire in the Yemeni conflict, a move that has previously been thwarted by Iran using its influence over the Houthi rebels to scupper a deal.

Even so, the fact that the Chinese can pull off a diplomatic coup involving a country that was formerly a key ally of the US serves as a devastating indictment of the Biden administration’s incompetence.

From Saudi Arabia’s perspective, it is hardly surprising that the kingdom should seek new alliances after the high-handed treatment it has received since Biden took office, which was very much in evidence when the American leader visited Riyadh last July.

Having previously castigated Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto leader, over his alleged involvement in the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, as well as the Saudis’ involvement in Yemen’s disastrous civil war, Biden demanded that the Saudis increase oil production to ease the global shortage caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

At the same time Biden made it clear that his main policy goal in the region was to resurrect the flawed nuclear deal with Iran, a move the Saudis responded to with utter dismay.

Unsurprisingly, Biden left Riyadh empty-handed, prompting the Saudis finally to cut their losses with the White House, and look for alliances elsewhere. This has resulted in the Saudis forging ever-closer ties with China, a country that is regarded as posing a major threat to the long-term security of the United States.

Nor is Saudi Arabia the only former American ally in the Middle East to review its diplomatic options as a result of the Biden administration’s indifference towards the region.

According to details contained in documents allegedly stolen from the Pentagon that have subsequently been shared on social media, both Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), countries that previously enjoyed strong ties with Washington, have provided support to Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is said to have instructed his arms industry to make missiles to sell to Russia for use in the Ukraine conflict, while Russian officials were recorded boasting that the UAE had agreed to cooperate with them “against US and UK intelligence.”

This is indeed a sorry state of affairs for two countries that once prided themselves on their close ties with Washington but, thanks to the Biden’s administration’s ineptitude, now find themselves seeking alliances with America’s enemies.

(Con Coughlin is the Telegraph‘s Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute)

{Reposted from Gatestone Institute}


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