On July 13, 2022, U.S. President, Joe Biden, began his first Middle East tour after taking office, starting from Tel Aviv and then the Palestinian territories, heading later to Saudi Arabia to meet With King Salman, and participate in an expanded meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq, according to a White House statement.
The visit may remind with the former U.S. President, Donald Trump's, tour, taking into account the fundamental differences between the two tours. Trump's trip was his first foreign trip after taking office, the matter that indicated the region's importance in his administration's calculations, and his administration's reliance on making breakthroughs in the peace process there. Biden's trip comes more than a year and a half after he became president. The tour would probably not have been on its current track without the pressures of the Ukrainian crisis, and Washington's need to reset its traditional relations in the region.
This is another fundamental difference between the two tours, as the international environment changed when Russia's started the military operation in Ukraine. The regional circumstances also differed. Trump's May 2017 tour aimed at regional coordination for the post-U.S. withdrawal from the Nuclear Deal with Iran, which took place in May 2018, amid relief from countries in the region, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, which, along with other regional countries, criticized the agreement signed by the Obama administration.
While Biden's trip can be described as a "crises" tour, as it comes seeking regional coordination for the post-nuclear negotiations, reassuring allies that no sudden agreement with Iran is as sudden as it was under the Obama administration.
It is true that Biden's tour takes place at a time when states are seeking to break the impasse of proxy wars, and neutralize as many conflicts as possible, as evidenced by the multiple talks taking place on more than one file. Nevertheless, this tour comes at a time when several countries are facing local political crises so far. Iraq is experiencing a crisis in forming its government, Lebanon is suffering from worsening financial hardship, run by a caretaker government, awaiting forming a new government, that may be delayed as the large parliamentary blocs continued to lose a majority in the parliament. Meanwhile, Israel pre-empted Biden's tour by calling for the dissolution of the Knesset and holding the fifth election in three years.
Perhaps the most prominent crisis of Biden's visit is related to the United States itself, for such visit reflects the depth what is referred thereto as the absence of a clear U.S. strategy toward the Middle East, in light of the rise of geostrategic importance for the Far East region (China) and, more recently, Eurasia (The Confluence of Europe + Asia north).
The U.S Policy Towards the Middle East seems lost among two principles:
The first is the Monroe Doctrine of the Fifth U.S. President, James Monroe, which resulted from a speech to Congress in 1823, based on non-interference policies, non-occupation in reference to European colonies, and the separation of spheres of influence in America and Europe. These isolationist policies came at the stage of the founding of the United States, where it sought to establish its internal sovereignty and reduce British interventions in the Americas.
The second is the Eisenhower Doctrine, of the U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, which was also issued in a speech to Congress in early 1957, in which the United States pledges to help any Middle Eastern country that requests economic or military assistance. Contrary to the Monroe Doctrine, the Eisenhower principle came amid an active foreign policy, that sees engaging in global crises as a necessity to contain Soviet influence, and protect U.S. national security interests.
Between Monroe's isolationism and Eisenhower's expansionism, the Biden administration is trying to formulate directions that respond to current circumstances, particularly those related to U.S. inflation rates. The Ukrainian crisis has outweighed interests over values, with U.S. voters in the November 2022 midterm elections will look at fuel and basic materials prices, and then they will cast their votes. Only a few cultural elites will rely on their votes on issues such as human rights and democratization around the world.
The Biden administration had no choice but to take a realistic pragmatic view of the Middle East, that sets aside Biden's attempts to integrate democracy and human rights into his foreign policy approach. In addition, it is essential for key countries in the region, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, not to look at Biden as the vice president's angle under Barack Obama, for the relations with Obama's administration were called into question, after the "sudden" signing of the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015.
Thus, the atmosphere accompanying the tour can, therefore, be described as being mutually aware of the need to move beyond previous determinants, that have slowed the dynamics of U.S.-Middle East interactions. This is evidenced by the visit's agenda, which Washington denies is its main goal as energy.
This issue will, most likely, be covered under the guise of vital U.S. interests and the promotion of regional cooperation, as the U.S. administration does not want to take the scene out of oil priority, in order to preserve its image as a military, security and technical superpower.
According to the known statements, the agenda of the visit appears to have become clear, and the following analysis attempts to present a homogeneous critical picture of its most important aspects, which can be limited to:
1. Preparing for a New Security Structure
On the day the Israeli government coalition called for the dissolution of parliament, Israeli Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, revealed that Israel and countries in the region were seeking to build an American-led air-defense military coalition, called the Middle East Air Defense Alliance (MEAD). He said that the program had succeeded in intercepting Iranian attempts to attack targets in Israel, and other unnamed countries, hoping the program would take "another step forward" during Biden's tour.
However, Jordanian Foreign Minister, Ayman al-Safadi, said that "there is no talk of a military alliance, where Israel is a part in". The UAE government also issued a statement denying knowing "any official discussions concerning any regional military alliance" targeting a particular country", in an indirect response to reports, most notably the Wall Street Journal's report, on military meetings involving officials from Israel and Arab countries.
Theoretically, according to the rhetoric of Realism; in order for any alliance between a group of countries to be constituted, there should be a clear common "enemy" agreed to be classified as an enemy among member states. Only Israel, at this stage, is who is clear about its enmity with Iran. Saudi Arabia is engaging in discussions with Iran through Iraqi mediation. all the countries said to be members in such "alliance" tend to adopt non-offensive policies regarding Tehran, while working to surround it in the region and encircle its proxies.
In line with the regional trend, to reduce hostility and negative competition factors, it appears that what U.S. sources confirmed to the media is the closest to accuracy. Such sources denied that a military alliance in the Middle East is on the agenda of Biden's visit, rather, they are "arrangements and understandings within the framework of the U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for the Middle East, where Israel joined it after years as part of the U.S. leadership in Europe". These arrangements aim to monitor and intercept flying objects, such as missiles and drones. In addition to intelligence cooperation, and the exchange of technological information.
On the first day of his tour, Israel revealed to Biden the latest laser air defense systems, designed to monitor and intercept small-size flying objects, such as drone, thermal missiles, and short-range projectiles. Israel, thus, joined the multi-layered and multi-level air defense system, in what appears to be a promotion and review of the potential Tel Aviv can provide in any Middle Eastern defense partnership being prepared.
Regardless of what the objectives are, the idea of a military alliance in the region still has a long course of action, for in addition to the absence of a clear common enemy. Candidate States vary in their objectives and interests, besides their cultural, political, and community structure.
At a time of multiple mediations and talks, the supposed military alliance will increase suspicion and apprehension, it also enhances the deep-rooted trust crises. Therefore, it is necessary to adjust terminology, and not to use the term "Alliance" to refer only to a sophisticated monitoring network, which does not mean reducing the political and moral implications of what is happening, as the network reflects a strategic political breakthrough, with a defensive military character.
Whether the proposed network would achieve its operational objective, of securing a large-scale air coverage via linking and coordinating air defenses to several armies, should be questioned. Would this new structure be added to effective deterrence tools, or would it be merely a political manoeuvre to practice pressure Iran, in order to compromise nuclear negotiations and its regional influence?
The proposed security structure sends a strong message that Washington, while preoccupied with non-Middle Eastern domestic and foreign priorities, still has the assets to shape the course of events in the region, and can impose new rules that break previous psychological barriers.
In the aforementioned Eisenhower Doctrine, Israel, then a member of the U.S. Military Command in Europe -EUCOM, was not an organic part of the U.S.-Middle East accounts. However, after Israel’s breakthroughs in relations with Arab capitals, its military network became a fait accompli dictated by common concerns. Should the air defense network was not announced at this time, working on its infrastructure under USCENTCOM's leadership is almost certainly under way.
2. Regional Integration and Competing China
NATO would not have lasted if it only addressed "the common concerns". Rather, NATO was strengthened by "common interests" and inter-level coordination on two levels: the first is between the European countries themselves, along with the promotion of integration to the EU. The second is transatlantic cooperation between Europe and the United States, and the construction of the U.S. Marshall Plan to support the European economies, which were devastated by two world wars.
Whoever follows the trans-State projects in the Middle East, would believe that these projects are inspired by the European experience lessons, to serve the economies of the region affected by the security crises, the Corona pandemic, and the Ukrainian crisis.
Biden's tour is expected to give impetus to these projects, such as railways and logistics connectivity projects, energy transportation, the stabilization of a U.S. foothold in Mediterranean gas; food and water security. It is also expected to give momentum for projects emerging from recent Arab-Israeli peace agreements.
Deep in these transnational projects, the United States is trying to block China's expansion into the Belt and Road Initiative region. In this regard, it is reported that the former U.S. President Donald Trump administration firmly asked Tel Aviv to reduce the presence of Chinese companies in Haifa port, due to security considerations, as such presence is in proximity to the U.S. Sixth Fleet. In the same time, Washington reportedly asked Oman to stop cooperation with China on the Attarat Shale Oil Project.
China's aspirations in the region carried aspects related to the military industry. Beijing and Tehran signed a 25-year "comprehensive strategic partnership" agreement, that includes part of military cooperation. Iraq signed a 20-year strategic agreement with China in September 2019, based on "oil for reconstruction" as Iraq supplies oil to China in exchange for Chinese companies constructing the al-Faw port, associated railway, schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure.
After the killing of Quds Brigades commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. raid in January 2020, and the resignation of Adel Abdul Mahdi's government, the agreement between Iraq and China lost its supporting momentum, amid U.S. restrictions and conditions limiting China's development expansion in Iraq.
These restrictions are not part of a U.S. tactic for the Middle East, but as part of an international strategy that intends to reduce China's penetration into developing countries, and to maintain U.S. superiority in areas where China has recently emerged, such as technology.
To that end, in June 2021, the Senate passed the “Innovation and Competition Act”, which was criticized by China's House of Representatives, saying the $250 billion law was is "mired in the cold war mentality and zero-game mentality, distorting China's development path as well as its domestic and foreign policies".
Internationally, the U.S. diplomacy supported the launch of an intercontinental program at the June 2022 G7 summit, which was named “Partnership for Global Infrastructure”. The program aims to mobilize countries to raise $600 billion, in order to fund development projects parallel to China's Belt and Road Initiative, known as the New Silk Road.
So far, Washington is still able to draw red lines in front of China's expansion in the Middle East, which, unlike Africa, is a deep-rooted area of vital U.S. interests. This means that U.S. reluctance is justified and supported by tools to enforce its will.
3. Showing Support for Peace Process
Thus, it appears that talking about a defensive partnerships requires a relative level of mutual development dependence, through economic integration, to ensure its success and sustainability, for economic partnerships have a role to play in reducing perceived differences, and raising the level of trust between different states. Such partnerships will not be successful without a political solution to the major crises in the region, and a comprehensive cooperation in terms of target areas and Member States, including the current conflict.
The Palestinian Cause is the oldest conflict file in the region. The Palestinians' expectations have increased when Biden came to power, that he may abolish some of Trump’s administration, such as the reopening of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, and the reversal of the decision to close PLO offices in Washington.
While Biden pledged to take steps for the Palestinians in his campaign, the facts suggest that the stalemate in the peace process continues to take place, as the Biden administration merely works to maintain the status quo, without taking any effective steps, except for economic support aimed at improving the economic situation, without progress in the political situation.
Throughout his political career, Biden's support for Israel's security has not wavered. However, he also supports a two-state solution, which its prospects diminished by settlements expansion, and the growing presence of the Israeli right wing parties, which reject any radical solutions convincing both sides of the conflict.
After his visit to Tel Aviv, Biden will travel to Bethlehem and meet with Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas. Biden is likely to send a message rejecting Israel's sovereignty over East Jerusalem, while visiting a charity hospital without Israeli security or political escorts.
Practically speaking, this visit does not intend to provide anything new with regard to Palestinian-Israeli peace. Biden's arrival at Ben Gurion Airport acknowledged that a two-state solution "remains the best solution to end the conflict in the region," but he acknowledged the difficulty of this path by saying "I do not see a horizon soon for this solution," as the main concern for this phase is heading towards expanding Israel's relations with Arab countries.
The objectives of this foreign tour are inseparable from U.S. domestic conditions. Besides energy, Biden will show the U.S. voter his commitment to Israel's security, so he may seek to come up with a declaration of concrete steps, to expand the list of countries that are bound by peace agreements with Israel.
The tour is expected to see the preparation for the establishment of a defense structure, as mentioned earlier, under the umbrella of "USCENTCOM", the matter that means that Israel will participate, by virtue of its membership in the U.S. Middle East command.
4. Coordination for the Post-Nuclear Negotiations
Observers are still waiting for the outcome of the Doha round of talks on the nuclear deal, which began in late June 2022. This complementary round is seen crucial after the deadlock in the Vienna talks. Whatever the outcome of these talks might be, the Biden administration will seek to spare its allies the scenario of the agreement/sudden collapse as it was in the 2015 agreement.
Washington already began to improve its negotiating position, through greater coordination between its allies and partners in the region. The MEAD comprehensive defense monitoring network is at the heart of the integrated deterrence, directed against the Iranian activities, that some countries see as destabilizing.
More recently, Israeli officials were talking about a fundamental change in dealing with the Iranian file, via following an octopus strategy, that includes targeting Iran's sources of danger inside Iran. Thereby escalating Israel -and possibly some of its security cooperating partners- from its arms policy of neutralizing the sources of danger outside Iranian territory.
Recently, Tel Aviv was accused of targeting Iranian interests and several assassinations inside Iran, and even in the most sensitive security stances, while expanding air strikes on Iranian interests in Syria, most recently is the temporarily decommissioning Damascus International Airport, after a raid believed to have been carried out by Israel.
Iran responds to the stalemate in negotiations and the attacks with several mechanisms, the most serious of which is the escalation of its nuclear steps closer to the nuclear threshold. Once Tehran acquires nuclear weapons, the territory will be very close to the outbreak of a nuclear arms race.
Strategiecs discussed this issue in the 2019 Semi-Annual Outlook Report, entitled: The Impact of Nuclear Power on the Concept of "Strategy".
In the face of this turmoil related to Tehran's ocation in the region, the Biden administration finds itself more demanded than ever to adopt policies that address Iran's destabilizing influence, according to the assessments of its Middle Eastern partners and allies. Although Tehran refuses to discuss that influence in any talks with the West, its discussions with countries in the region continue to be on its nuclear talks with the West.
Any progress in the course of these talks will have a positive impact on regional discussions, as these two tracks are complementary, one of which is concerned with the nuclear issue, while the other by understanding on stable borders in regional security equations.
The multiplicity of crisis areas contributes in expanding the list of resolvable and possible-to-neutralized issues, particularly in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. It is in the interest of Washington and its allies to manage ongoing negotiations on more than one level, to achieve political returns that ease regional tensions, and constitute a somewhat unified negotiating front against Tehran.
This would raise the possibility of paying joint concessions, that address the concerns of each party regarding the most sensitive file to its considerations. Negotiation networking would support comprehensive satisfactory results, while dealing with files each on its own, might not lead to such a result.
The Fallacies of the U.S. Withdrawal and the Multipolar World
Washington is no longer the only ally of the region's countries, which used to revolve in its orbit. After the Obama administration pursued a "Lead form the Back" approach to the region's crises, its support to the so-called "Arab Spring" and its "sudden" signing of the 2015 nuclear deal, countries in the region reassessed their foreign policy, in order to diversify their options, and not be limited to a single ally on the international stage.
This diversification coincided with the "fallacy" of talking about a strategic U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East, a fallacy that ignores U.S. military and security assets in the region, and U.S. Middle East foreign policy parameters continue to maintain their key elements in ensuring freedom of navigation, energy security, allied support, and the fight against terrorism and extremism. These elements may be declining in impact, but the Ukrainian crisis has brought them back to the forefront.
This diversification coincided with the "fallacy" of talking about a strategic U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East, a fallacy that ignores U.S. military and security assets in the region. The U.S. Middle East foreign policy determinants continue to maintain their key elements in ensuring freedom of navigation, energy security, allied support; and the fight against terrorism and extremism. These elements may be declining in impact, but the Ukrainian crisis has brought them back to the forefront.
Biden's Middle East tour, through which Washington declares in practice that it will never leave the Middle East in a strategic vacuum filled by China, Russia, and regional powers, or opposing regional powers like Iran. Even if U.S. national security interests require efforts toward the Near East and Eurasia, the U.S. will continue to maintain a proliferation that will enable it to pursue an active policy, by the virtue of its unilateral possession of military assets, that provide a security umbrella, which can be strengthened, when needed, to enforce their Middle East will.
Russia, although established for a military presence in Syria, does not have a strategic presence, for it does not meet the requirements for an integrated administration to carry out large-scale operations. Bearing in mind that this presence was reduced due to operational and political reasons related to the Ukrainian crisis.
As for China, it has no declared military base outside its territory, except for a limited presence in the Bab al-Mandab Strait (Djibouti).
Until now, there is no state or alliance qualified to exert the sweeping influence of the international system nature. Some powers may have something to influence international relations, but changing the world’s polarity is not about economic capabilities (China) or military capabilities (Russia). History suggests that the polarity of the international system has changed only after major wars, where geopolitical blocs involved in them, where the results of would lead to creating of new international bases.
This chaotic international situation carries challenges the region countries. At the same time, they can be seen as an opportunity to raise these states self-capabilities and diversify their external options, with all the risks this diversification may carry. Despite the relative U.S. disengagement in the region's crises, Washington still has a security umbrella, capable of providing protection or strategically removing it.
It would be illogical for U.S. decision-making circles to reject the increase of their allies' interactions with Beijing and Moscow, in order to make compensate the shortfall created by the U.S. partial withdrawal. But Washington can work on managing a bloc of its allies to fill this vacuum, preserve its international interests, and preventing damaging the interests of its Middle Eastern allies.
Barriers between the Middle East and the Near East are shrinking. The United States wants to adapt to this shift. So, what drew attention in Biden's tour that the first meetings of a new quartet; comprising the U.S., the UAU, India, and Israel (Acronym "I2U2") were launched. No clear features of such group had appeared so far, but it is expected to have a defensive, economic, and technological significance.
I2U2 can be a platform for networking two vital territories in international geostrategic calculations. The need for such a networking increased after the U.S. withdrawal from Central Asia Afghanistan, which is the Middle East-Far East region.
Of this term, it is clear that Biden's tour reaffirms that the Middle East is still at the heart of the international transformations, affecting the form of international relations. As for talking about the nature of the international system and its transformation into multipolarity, is a proposal that needs to be a theoretical, unbiased methodical formalization, that takes into account the cost and responsibilities of who is taking the leadership. If Washington felt bored of such burdens, Begin, most likely, does not want to be in a similar position in the future, where burdens on it are imposed, undermining its domestic economic development, and undermine their principle of "peaceful rise".
The concept of "nonPolarity", drafted by the Foreign Relations Council President, Richard Haass, should therefore be considered in an article published in Foreign Affairs in mid-2008, in which he explored the absence of the desire and ability of the great powers to act as an Ordering Agent in the international system.
In preparation for the "NonPolarity" prevalence, the major regional states of each region, including the Middle East, should adapt to the potential change in the international system, whose superpowers are moving to reduce their external burdens, and focus their efforts inwardly to meet transnational challenges, such as climate change, cyber security, and food security.
Regional studies provide a theoretical entry point for regional cooperation and integration pathways, particularly in addressing emerging risks, such as food and water security, energy security, supply chains, counter-terrorism, organized criminality, and drug trafficking. The risks associated with geographical convergence, stimulating trans-regional resolutions.
Looking for a Regional Balance
The balance requires that there be no clear superiority of one party at the expense of the other, so that the balance of power, which this century is not limited to military power -as it was in the last century- indicates a state of relative parity that maintains stability.
The superpowers have long sought to control regional balances, without a single regional power would "dominate" its neighbors. In this regard, Washington does not want to see Iran as a nuclear state, nor to engage the countries of the region in a zero-sum conflict, that eventually leads to a state to be dominant, as much as the region tends to have relationships, formed by interrelated factors of deterrence and common interests.
Such a "regional" balance, inspired by the "international" policy of containment, pursued in the midst of the Cold War through the formation of special spheres of influence by each pole, did not succeed in preventing clashes between and within non-major powers. It is true that, in addition to nuclear deterrence, it prevented a direct confrontation, but failed to establish a positive global peace and was limited to a negative peace, which prevented war and cooperation between the poles at the time.
While there is regional seriousness in positive peace, it is urgent to reduce the militarization of positions, and adopt policies that establish a climate of confidence. The question remains bewildering about the territory's ability to maintain itself below the threshold of the great engagement "SubThreshod Conflict", a situation that requires a great deal of accuracy of calculations and restraint. An exaggerated reaction by a state to an attack may decide who would start the war.
It is true that war, under the current balance of power, seems illogical, but the biasness toward the natural state and the exclusion of war is also illogical thinking. Early this year 2022, everything was normal in Ukraine; there was nothing to suggest war other than U.S. intelligence assessments, but in February, Russia began what it called a "special operation".
In conclusion, Biden's trip comes at a sensitive time for domestic and international considerations, reviewed in this paper. In light of these data, this tour is not expected to result imposing new rules and equations in the region, as the Biden administration is not in a position of strength to shape facts and circumstances.
However, what should be monitored during the visit is whether the U.S. perspective toward the Middle East has changed, as the key determinants that governed this perspective (oil security, Israel's security, allied support; counter-terrorism and extremism, and the spread of democracy) may be redefined in accordance with regional and international developments and changes.