Saudi tour cements security positions and sees crown prince’s return to center stage

Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, met formally this week with leaders from Egypt, Jordan and Turkey. His goal, analysts say, is to unify their positions on security issues, such as growing concerns about Iran.

Improving economic cooperation and strengthening bilateral relations with oil-producing Saudi Arabia were also part of the visits, analysts said, as the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine continue to unfold. wreak havoc.

Bin Salman’s visits to the region this week, analysts say, signal his desire for recognition on the world stage and an end to years of international isolation following the 2018 murder and dismemberment of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, whose personal identity the prince denied. participation. US President Joe Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” during his campaign, but the two countries are historic allies.

Jordanian analyst Amer al-Sabaileh told VOA that Russia’s war in Ukraine, while driving up oil prices and causing food shortages around the world, has opened up Saudi Arabia’s “changes in the rules of engagement with the American administration”. Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil exporter and the strategic political linchpin of the Middle East.

A nonresident fellow at the Washington-based Stimson Center, al-Sabaileh said Biden’s attendance at a July 16 summit in Jeddah, bringing together the leaders of the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries as well as those of Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, gives MBS, as Bin Salman is known, “some kind of credit” and ability to help set the regional agenda, particularly on Iran and Israel. Saudi Arabia is one of the GCC members.

“Obviously he wants to pave the way for his regional presence and bring back this old issue of Sunni [axis] in the face of Iran, the danger of Iran,” al-Sabaileh said. “Then he has another important card he wants to play politically: the relationship with Israel. If you have the Emiratis and Bahrainis in the Abraham Accords and you don’t have Saudi Arabia, there is nothing. Without Saudi Arabia as the representative of the Sunni world, it doesn’t work.

The United States brokered the Abraham Accords in 2020, normalizing diplomatic and economic relations between Israel and the Gulf states of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Neither country had ever been at war with Israel, unlike Egypt and Jordan, which signed peace treaties with the Jewish state in 1979 and 1994 respectively.

Jordanian political commentator Osama al-Sharif told VOA that Jordan “is a little worried about the summit agenda” if it means preparing “an anti-Iranian alliance” of Sunni Muslim states because it could undermine the moderate position of the country. Jordan, a key US ally, is also a longtime champion of the two-state solution to end the escalating Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In a joint statement Wednesday after Bin Salman’s visit with King Abdullah of Jordan, the two leaders stressed their support for international efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons as well as to curb “destabilizing activities”. of Iran in Arab countries, such as Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

As a swing oil producer with money to invest, Al Sharif says Bin Salman is using Saudi funds to fund projects in Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, all of which are suffering severe economic downturns due to the pandemic. of COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine.

“Economically, Saudi Arabia is a very important backer to Jordan, the biggest investor with around $10 billion to $13 billion in investments in the country,” al-Sharif said. “A $3 billion fund has been very active, signing memorandums of understanding [memoranda of understanding] when it comes to investing in the Jordanian railway system, in start-ups, in new businesses. In Cairo, they signed agreements [worth] $7.7 billion.

Saudi Arabia and Turkey sign agreements on energy, security and the economy, including a plan for Saudi funds to enter capital markets in Turkey, according to Reuters. Turkey is going through its worst economic crisis in two decades.

Some analysts believe that Washington could encourage Arab states to take a bigger role in defending themselves and working in coordination with Israel to counter the persistent threats posed by Iran. But Khaled Shneikat, the head of the Jordanian Political Science Society, told online publication Middle East Eye that “countries in the region are likely to demand a greater security role for the United States” when Summit.

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