Ever since the invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration’s talks with Tehran over the nuclear agreement, and the demand for Saudi Arabia to pump and export more oil, the United States and Riyadh have been increasingly at odds with each other. The Israeli ambassador stressed the need for the two countries to come together to mend their ties, particularly considering Washington’s desire to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
In early March, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman stated that he did not care whether President Biden misunderstood him when he replied that the administration should care about America’s interests. The Saudi Prince also suggested that Riyadh could reduce its investments in the U.S., which according to him, amounts to $800 billion dollars. The cold relationship between President Biden and Riyadh is not a first. When Biden was Vice President, the Obama administration also had a tense relationship with Saudi Arabia.
In the early months of the Biden Presidency, the administration released a CIA report that implicated the Crown Prince in the murder of Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist and dissident, prompting the Crown Prince to publicly deny such accusations. The Biden administration also halted billions of dollars in arms to Saudi Arabia and demanded that the monarchy releases more political prisoners. The President stressed the need for the Yemen conflict between Saudi-backed forces and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels to end but angered Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries like UAE when it delisted the Houthis from the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list.
After the Trump administration exited the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement, enacted economic sanctions on the Iranian government, and killed Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) General Qassem Soleimani, countries like Saudi Arabia approved the maximum pressure campaign. Under the Obama presidency, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and other Arab states openly disapproved of President Obama’s stance toward Tehran, fearing that the nuclear agreement had created a pathway for the mullahs to obtain a nuclear weapon.
President Biden has not met with the Crown Prince but has addressed his father Salman while criticizing the heir. Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine, the U.S. and its allies have enacted economic sanctions against the Russian economy and its oil sector, which many European countries rely on for their energy source. With the Biden Administration’s refusal to enact energy-independent policies, the Biden Administration has called on countries like Saudi Arabia to increase their oil output outside of a past agreement with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Several House Democrats called on President Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken to re-think the relationship with Riyadh, arguing that the longstanding support for the Kingdom does not align with U.S. interests or values. The refusal of the Royal Kingdom to join the West in isolating Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine has been one of the reasons why Democrats in Congress are calling for immediate change.
From Israel’s perspective, Ambassador Herzog stressed the need for the relationship to be mended between the two countries and noted that Saudi Arabia is a vital actor in the Middle East and the Islamic world. The Israeli government views Saudi Arabia as a powerful and potential ally against Iranian aggression and has lobbied the United States to support the economic and military aid for the Arab state. The Israeli ambassador stated that he hoped Riyadh would join the already growing number of Arab states allying with Israel.
In past months, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman explained that he sees the state of Israel as a potential ally with shared interests marking a different view and shift than his father had. The line that Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries have repeated was that Israel and the Kingdom could establish normalized relations once it resolved the conflict with the Palestinians. Even though Saudi Arabia has not officially normalized ties with Israel, both governments have maintained a secret relationship by allowing military and passenger planes to fly over each other’s airspace and share intelligence reports.