The wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, citing officials from the US and the region, that last March, the US convened a secret meeting of top military officials from Israel and Arab countries in Sharm El-Sheikh, the resort town on the southern tip of the Sinai, to explore how to coordinate against Iran’s growing missile and drone capabilities (US Held Secret Meeting with Israeli, Arab Military Chiefs to Counter Iran Air Threat). According to the WSJ, the previously undisclosed talks, which were held at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, marked the first time that such a range of ranking Israeli and Arab officers have met under US military auspices to discuss how to combat Iranian aggression in the region.
Haaretz pointed out Monday morning that the US is operating a kind of one-two punch strategy, on the one hand, with vigorous European mediation, there’s the imminent resumption of nuclear talks between Iran and the superpowers; on the other, the US is stepping up its efforts to establish a regional defense system, which will include Israel and some friendly Arab countries. and focus on dealing with Iranian drones and missiles (המפגש בין כוכבי לרמטכ”ל הסעודי מעיד: מערך ההגנה האזורי כבר פועל).
Earlier in June, the WSJ reported that Saudi Arabia is engaging in serious talks with Israel to build business ties and create new security arrangements as the conservative Islamic kingdom senses a shift among its public in favor of establishing official ties with the majority Jewish state (Saudi Arabia Moves Toward Eventual Ties with Israel).
Participants in the American-initiated Sharm El-Sheikh meeting included IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, Saudi Army Commander Fayyadh bin Hamed al-Ruwaili, and senior officers from the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. The meeting was part of the Biden administration’s effort to advance its regional air defense initiative, in the face of the Iranian threat. The meeting was convened a few weeks after American fighter jets intercepted over Iraqi soil two Iranian UAVs that were apparently on their way to attack inside Israeli territory.
President Joe Biden’s main goal in coming to the region in mid-July is a reconciliation with Saudi Arabia, after having vilified it over the October 2018 kidnapping and assassination of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Biden was needlessly outspoken about Saudi Arabia’s crimes during his presidential campaign and after taking office. Now the US needs the Saudis to increase oil production to reduce the global energy crisis resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Saudis didn’t take Biden’s calls for the longest time, and getting on their good side is going to cost him plenty, but that’s what the president will be focusing on. In that context, any regional progress, certainly a public announcement about Israeli-Saudi relations, would be a great bonus.
Biden’s most optimistic scenario would have Saudi Arabia agreeing to openly join the US’ defense alliance initiative. In practice, as the incident in Iraq indicates, there already exists extensive cooperation between countries in the region, much of it through the Americans, which includes exchanging intelligence, radar networking, and coordinating interception devices. Convincing the Saudis to make it official would be huge for Biden – providing that his Saudi hosts would also acquiesce to raising oil production levels significantly.