In the 1950s, the Eisenhower administration pushed the Atoms for Peace program as part of the American Cold War strategy to supply emerging nations with nuclear technology. Iran was one of the beneficiaries, and its nuclear program was launched in 1957. The US government is now willing to give Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a nuclear program in exchange for normalizing relations with Israel and cementing American influence in the Middle East. Both rulers were celebrated as reformers and Westernizers, the last barrier between the West and Islamic fundamentalism or communism.
The Biden administration is willing to give Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a nuclear program in exchange for normalizing relations with Israel and cementing American influence in the region. Both rulers fashioned themselves as reformers and Westernizers, the last barrier between the West and Islamic fundamentalism. However, little regard was given to the abuse of human and civil rights and how they maintained their regime on tactics of authoritarianism and brutality.
In recent weeks, details of a potential normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia have emerged, with debates about the prospects of this deal. Peace agreements are desirable, as they end a state of war, and there is always a price to pay in a sincere reconciliation process and ending animosity. Understanding the current moment between the United States, Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia is crucial for understanding the dynamics of the Middle East.
Netanyahu is pursuing diplomatic initiatives to divert attention from domestic criticism over democratic backsliding and the expansion of settlements in Palestinian territories. Israel has had semi-official diplomatic relations with countries like the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco for many years, and the focus should be on a just and peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The real diplomatic prize for Israel would be Saudi Arabia, as the last serious peace proposal was made by Riyadh at the Arab League Summit in Beirut in March 2002. In the past decade, Saudi and Israeli officials met openly, opened airspace for Israeli carriers, and collaborated on countering Iran and its nuclear project.
The Biden administration’s desperate pursuit of this goal is in line with the US National Security Strategy and possibly a means to counter rising oil prices. Netanyahu, who is leading the most extreme right-wing coalition to ever rule in Israel, has the most to gain or lose in this deal. He is often dragged behind the even more extreme elements in his coalition, such as former convicted terrorist Itamar Ben Gvir, his party, Jewish Power, and minister of finance Betzalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionist Party.
Netanyahu is facing multiple corruption charges a protest of his judicial coup and the undoing of the democratic elements of the Israeli government. The signing of a historic agreement with Saudi Arabia and the US could temporarily conceal negative news and highlight him as the only leader capable of bringing peace to Israel.
Saudi Arabia’s nuclear agreement with Iran is seen as a trophy for Biden and Netanyahu, but it raises concerns about the stability of the region. The price of securing a Saudi nuclear program is extremely high, and success is never guaranteed. However, there is an alternative to giving Saudi Arabia nuclear capabilities: it can provide a pathway to a new, safer, and peaceful Middle East. The balance of power in the region has changed dramatically in recent years, with Iran signing new agreements with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, which are considered US partners. This series of agreements could be seen as an Iranian effort to break the ring of isolation around it.
Washington initially responded with suspicion to the news of the deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia, believing it signalled China’s efforts to undermine America’s sphere of influence in the Middle East. Iran may be attempting to establish closer ties with the US due to Biden’s regional policies and the recent prisoner exchange deal, while Saudi Arabia is aware of the potential risks of relying on China as a regional partner.
Rethinking Middle Eastern peace includes investments in economic growth, civil society development, and poorer classes based on the perception of justice. Saudi Arabia will accept American guarantees against possible Iranian aggression, while the United States can restore the modified framework of the nuclear agreement with Iran, ensuring that benefits go to the Iranian people rather than just to elites close to the regime. However, any future US administration can pull out from any such arrangement and undo the progress made.
The Israel-Palestine conflict is a key issue that could potentially neutralize the Iranian threat. The United States should create a mechanism of effective sticks and carrots for Israel and the occupation, as American public opinion has shifted in recent years. Over 30% of the American public now understands that the occupation is not sustainable and antithetical to American interests. If Israel and Palestine make significant progress, Washington will not have to be involved in any future regional conflict and create a genuine change in the Middle East.
Historical precedents can help make sense of the current moment. President Jimmy Carter depicted Iran as an island of stability in 1977, but the Shah would leave the country for good a year later. The US nonproliferation policy should aim to consistently reduce nuclear risks in the Middle East, focusing on changing the reality, reducing risk factors, and pushing all countries towards regional peace and stability, rather than relying on the risky option of Saudi Arabia providing nuclear facilities in exchange for peace with Israel.