By Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Legal Studies
This week, President Biden went for a three-day visit to the Middle East. During his trip, he will visit Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Saudi Arabia. This visit may have significant possible results concerning the Middle East, and it will also have domestic importance in regard to high energy prices and the upcoming mid-term election.
At the center of Biden’s visit is oil and oil production. Energy prices are high and with the current soaring inflation in the U.S., many analysts have predicted a recession. If a recession occurs, that will be catastrophic for the President during the mid-term election. There may also be calls for Biden not to run for a second term in 2024.
Rising Fuel Prices and Middle East Defense Pacts
How will Biden’s visit affect oil prices? Iran is at the heart of the issue. The ongoing talks about the nuclear deal, which recently took place in Qatar, have led nowhere.
The regime in Tehran seems to be disinterested in reaching an agreement. As a result, enriched uranium production in Iran continues and Iran is getting ever closer to the creation of a nuclear bomb.
A nuclear bomb in the hands of Tehran’s Shiite clerics worries both Israel and the Sunni countries in the Middle East. However, this development could serve as a focal point for cooperation.
Many pundits have reported that Biden’s visit will include a public defense pact between Israel and the Gulf States, led by Saudi Arabia, to ensure a joint front in case of an Iranian attack. This potential pact is causing anxiety in Iran, which warned that the U.S is destabilizing the Middle East with this agreement.
The latest leaks from Israel suggest that such a regional defense pact will not be announced publicly during Biden’s visit. According to Haaretz, “Israeli sources cited the complexity of forming such an alliance between Israel and Arab states, as well as internal disputes in Israel regarding its effectiveness. The sources added that during the visit, a ‘significant’ bilateral U.S.-Israeli agreement is expected to be signed, touching on security and economic issues.”
This pact seems to be a message to Tehran’s leaders that there is still room for a nuclear agreement. Other reports suggest that the White House plans other defense agreements for the Middle East.
Foreign Policy reported that a similar defense agreement will be signed with the United Arab Emirates, noting, “Reports indicate that Washington is presenting the United Arab Emirates with a formal defense agreement containing U.S. security guarantees for Abu Dhabi. If true, it would be the first of its kind for the region — and a step back for U.S. interests.”
How an Iranian Nuclear Bomb Would Affect Oil and Gas Production
An Iranian nuclear bomb will put Middle East oil production in danger. Iran’s pressure on Saudi Arabia through the Houthi rebels has subsided, but it can easily be turned up again by Tehran.
Even if Iran decides to halt its progress toward a nuclear bomb, there is still the issue of high gas prices. Biden needs the Gulf States to increase oil production to lower fuel prices, and he will have to pay a political price. The Gulf States need the U.S. to provide reassurance that they have American backing if Iran threatens them with a nuclear bomb.
Also, President Biden has been very critical of Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been linked to the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Biden’s harsh words have not been forgotten in Riyadh and this need for the U.S. to seek Saudi Arabia’s support will be sweet revenge for the crown prince.
What Will Iran Do During Biden’s Visit?
What is Iran likely to do in the future? It will not be a surprise if Iran uses Biden’s visit to make a show of force through conventional combat or cyber warfare.
Iran also announced this week that it will sell hundreds of unmanned aircraft to Russia to aid it in its war in Ukraine. This announcement sends a very clear message that Iran will do whatever it can to counter Western interests.
Since there is no clear voice within the Iranian regime that call for a resolution in the nuclear talks, we are facing one of two situations. First, there could be a nuclear agreement that has little efficacy but delays action until the end of Biden’s administration. Second, there could be an escalation of tensions that will require the U.S to act if it is unwilling to let Iran dominate the Gulf States and raise energy prices.
Isolationism Is Not an Option for Biden
If there is anything we can learn from Biden’s visit, it is that the idea the U.S can retreat from foreign policy is ludicrous. Isolationism – so popular among U.S. citizens in both the extreme left and right of the political spectrum – does not consider that the U.S. has the largest economy in the world.
U.S interests are unusually complex and require a broad vision. The U.S is facing a possible recession, and effective foreign policy can help to put a brake on that recession.
Biden’s visit to the Middle East might be instrumental in securing his legacy. This visit will either save that legacy or destroy any hope of recovering it.