Once top secret, a multinational meeting of military leaders in March 2022 served as the basis for discussions that US President Joe Biden had during his visit to the Middle East from July 13-16, 2022.
For three months, a clandestine meeting of American, Israeli and Arab military leaders remained secret. Then, on June 26, the the wall street journal exclusively released revealing details of a US-hosted meeting in Sharm-el-Sheik, Egypt the previous March, which apparently included military leaders from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, from Jordan, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. They had met in secret, the report said, to explore ways to coordinate a joint response to Iran’s growing missile and drone capabilities.
As the WSJ has pointed out, these talks marked the first time that such a cross-section of senior Israeli and Arab officers have come together under the auspices of the US military to discuss how to defend and defend themselves. against a common threat.
A look at the participants suggests that there is something else new on the regional scene – the positive effect the Abraham Accords are having on expanding the concept of normalization in the moderate Arab world. The idea of sitting around a table with Israelis no longer seems inconceivable, even if Qatar and Saudi Arabia do not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel. On the contrary, it is becoming increasingly clear to Arab leaders that linking up with Israel’s high-tech capabilities in a multitude of fields brings them enormous advantages that would not otherwise be available.
For example, Arab countries seem increasingly keen to access sophisticated Israeli air defense technology, following a string of recent drone strikes on oil facilities and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. united, perpetrated by Iran or its proxies. One, carried out in September 2019, was claimed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. It hit an Aramco complex in Saudi Arabia, shutting down about 5% of global oil production and causing chaos in financial markets. A Hezbollah-led 3-drone strike against Israel’s Karish oil rig in the Mediterranean on July 2 was shot down by the IDF.
During his visit, Biden attended a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), supplemented by leaders from Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. He has undoubtedly put the regional security threat posed by Iran and its proxies on the agenda.
Media say attendees of the March meeting discussed which forces in the country would intercept drone, ballistic missile or cruise missile attacks. They agreed in principle to coordinate early notification systems when aerial threats are detected, but apparently agreed that for the time being a US-style military data sharing system would not be put in place, but that alerts would be sent via telephones and computers.
While in Saudi Arabia, Biden announced new steps in warming Saudi-Israeli relations, in particular the opening of Saudi skies to commercial flights from Israel. A fact sheet released by the White House after its official meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) lists thirteen areas in which the United States has pledged to cooperate more closely with the Kingdom, including energy security and the clean energy, cybersecurity, space exploration, maritime security and air defense.
Shortly after the Camp David Accords of 1978, American troops served as peacekeepers on the island of Tiran as part of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) under the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979. Five Americans were killed on the island in 2020 in a helicopter crash. The White House announced that arrangements had been finalized to withdraw peacekeepers from the MFO and for Saudi Arabia to develop this area for tourism, development and peaceful activities.
US presidents’ visits to Israel could almost be considered routine (six have done so, some more than once), but Biden’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia has long been weighed in the balance. The fact that it is moving forward is a mark of the importance Washington attaches to it. American liberal opinion is outraged at the idea of Biden shaking hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), in light of the Khashoggi affair.
On the afternoon of October 2, 2018, journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a vocal critic of MBS, entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, but never left. After listening to alleged recordings of conversations inside the consulate made by the Turkish intelligence services, a UN special rapporteur concluded that the journalist had been “brutally murdered” inside the building by a team of 15 Saudi agents, and that his body was then dismembered.
Khashoggi’s murder sparked global outrage. US intelligence agencies have concluded that the crown prince, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, approved the operation. MBS denied playing any role. A year after the murder, a Saudi court found five people guilty of direct participation in the murder and sentenced them to death. The sentences were later commuted to 20 years in prison. Three others received lesser sentences for covering up the crime. While Turkey has signed its involvement in the case and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and MBS have exchanged visits, Western liberal opinion refuses to accept the Saudi court result and continues to accuse MBS of responsibility for the case. ‘assassination.
During his meeting with MBS, Biden raised the issue of Khashoggi, and under the heading: “highlighting human rights concerns,” the fact sheet states that he “received undertakings regarding the reforms and institutional safeguards in place to guard against such conduct in the future”. ”
Finally, under the heading: “Integrated Air Defense Cooperation”, the White House Fact Sheets state: “In particular, the United States is committed to advancing a more integrated air and missile defense architecture and in a regional network, and to counter the proliferation of drones. air systems and missiles to non-state actors that threaten the peace and security of the region”.
In other words, the secret meeting in Sharm-el-Sheikh in March 2022 practically set the agenda for this aspect of the presidential visit.