Despite recent media stories about two supposed Biden Administration foreign policy “wins” in the Middle East, a closer look indicates these wins are not what they seem and may harm U.S. national security.
One of the alleged wins concerns the Biden Administration’s effort to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. On August 9, the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. and Saudi officials agreed to a framework for a deal under which Saudi Arabia would recognize Israel in exchange for Israeli, Saudi, and American concessions. Although Biden Administration officials said this agreement would take nine months to a year to finalize and faced long odds, they also described it as potentially “the most momentous Middle East peace deal in a generation.”
Another alleged Biden foreign policy win, announced on August 10, is a tentative deal to swap American and Iranian prisoners in exchange for unfreezing $6 billion of Iranian assets held by a South Korean bank. Biden officials said these funds would go through a Qatari bank to ensure they are used only for humanitarian purposes. Five Americans have been released from an Iranian prison under the deal but are under house arrest in Iran until an agreement allowing them to leave the country is finalized.
On the surface, both initiatives appear to be diplomatic breakthroughs. But a closer look indicates the Biden Administration is trying to claim credit for dubious, unfinished agreements and hide some dangerous details from the American public and Congress.
The alleged Saudi/Israel normalization agreement is years away if it ever occurs because it is based on many conditions that will be impossible to meet. Although Congress might agree to the enhanced security assurances that would be part of the agreement, it is very unlikely to approve Saudi Arabia’s demand that the U.S. help it develop a nuclear power program that includes uranium enrichment.
There are other major obstacles to a normalization agreement. For example, the Saudis want concessions from Israel to advance an eventual peace agreement with the Palestinians. Israeli officials say they are open to this but will not agree to a Saudi demand for Palestinian statehood. It is improbable that Palestinian leaders will agree to a new deal without this concession and probably will not agree to any agreement because of their long history of rejecting Israeli peace offers.
The Biden Administration also wants Saudi Arabia to substantially cut back its growing relationship with China as part of a normalization agreement, including not permitting China to establish military bases in the country, not using sensitive technology from Chinese companies like Huawei, and not allowing China to purchase oil with Chinese currency.
Although Saudi Arabia might agree to limit its military relationship with China, it is unlikely to make any significant concessions on its economic or energy relationships because China is Saudi Arabia’s top trading partner and the leading buyer of Saudi oil.
Moreover, Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman (MBS), the country’s de facto leader, is implementing more independent foreign and defense policies to make his country less reliant on the United States. The prince has doubled down on this effort since 2021 because the Biden Administration’s hostility toward Saudi Arabia made him question America’s reliability as an ally. As a result, MBS probably will not agree to curtail the growing Saudi relationship with China to get a normalization agreement and instead will continue to hedge his bets with the U.S. by building relationships with China and other American adversaries like Russia and Iran.
Because of these factors, a Saudi/Israel normalization agreement is unlikely for the foreseeable future.
The new agreement to swap American and Iranian prisoners is more problematic for two reasons.
First, the American prisoners are hostages freed by a $6 billion ransom payment. The U.S. repeatedly paying ransom to Iran to free innocent Americans has set a bad precedent that has emboldened Iran to take more American hostages.
This is at least the third time the U.S. has paid ransom to Iran to win the release of unjustly imprisoned Americans. In 2011, the Obama administration paid Iran $500,000 “bail” through Oman to win the release of three American hikers who accidentally wandered into Iranian territory and were charged with espionage. In 2016, the Obama administration paid Tehran $1.7 billion in the form of “pallets of cash” to free five Americans as part of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran (the JCPOA).
Second, as I discussed in an Aug. 4 American Greatness article, the U.S./Iran prisoner exchange is part of a new, secret agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that the Biden Administration is trying to hide from the American people and Congress.
Under the agreement, Iran reportedly will get $20 billion in sanctions relief and be permitted to enrich uranium to the near weapons-grade level of 60% uranium-235. Iran also will be allowed to keep all of its nuclear weapons-related infrastructure.
I agree with Caroline Glick, an Israeli foreign affairs analyst and journalist, who said during an Aug. 16 Newsmax TV panel that the Biden Administration’s new concessions on Iran’s nuclear program mean it has decided to enable Iran to become a nuclear-armed state but wants Tehran to delay its official entrance into the nuclear club until after the 2024 presidential election.
In addition, this secret deal reportedly is silent on Iran’s sale of drones and other weapons to Russia for its use in its war against Ukraine.
To conceal this agreement from the American people and evade a 2015 law requiring congressional oversight of nuclear agreements with Iran, the Biden administration negotiated it as a set of unwritten understandings. Many Members of Congress, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, have protested this arrangement as a ploy to circumvent congressional oversight and are demanding the Biden administration submit this new nuclear agreement for congressional review.
From the war in Ukraine, a surge in tensions with China, Iran, and North Korea, a new Chinese/Russian alliance, and other national security threats, Americans see the world as much more unstable and dangerous today than when President Trump left office. Biden officials know the American people blame President Biden’s foreign policy for this.
As a result, the Biden Administration is promoting the Saudi/Israel normalization agreement and the prisoner swap deal as major wins even though both agreements are unfinished and have significant drawbacks to manufacture wins to bolster its abysmal foreign policy record. Although the mainstream media is sure to swallow this line, because of the growing severity of foreign threats facing this country and the weakness of these Middle East initiatives, most Americans won’t be fooled.
Fred Fleitz is vice-chair of the America First Policy Institute Center for American Security. He previously served as National Security Council chief of staff, CIA analyst and a House Intelligence Committee staff member.