Rapid events are taking place in the Middle East these days. Since the events and their sequence in the agenda of this region are not a temporary affair, the new thing is that the events are bringing major strategic shifts that are arguably drafting a new history and re-tuning the relations and alliances, that is, the regional security equations.
At the forefront of these events is President Joe Biden’s trip. It included a visit to Israel, the 'West Bank', and Saudi Arabia. A look at these three stops underscores the importance of following all the details, the aftermath, and the potential regional and international implications of what happened.
In Israel, the first stop on the trip, President Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid signed a joint statement, known as the The Jerusalem US-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration, in which they pledged that the US will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and will reaffirm and renew its historic commitment to Israel’s security.
This explains why the statement characterizes US-Israeli relations in terms that reassure the Israeli ally of the depth of the US commitment in this regard. By referring to “unbreakable” ties, the statement also seemed closer to the wording of the international commitment than to similar joint statements.
The US reiterated that a key component of this commitment is the obligation not to allow Iran to possess a nuclear weapon at all. This is the strongest US sovereign commitment to date to work to ensure that Iran does not possess a nuclear weapon. Not only that, but it is an explicit and direct commitment and a declaration of readiness.
The US is using “all” elements of its national power to ensure this outcome (the potential nuclear threat from Iran).
In addition, the historic Jerusalem Declaration contains several other important points, including a US commitment to work with other partners to counter what the Declaration calls Iranian aggression and destabilizing activities, whether directly or through terrorist operatives and organizations such as “Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”
This does not appear to be a random statement, as the announcement was made shortly before the 9+1 Summit in Saudi Arabia, which was attended by the US President, the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and the leaders of the Kingdom of Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq.
This event reflects a US desire to sort out issues in the Middle East and restore US relations with its allies there. Iran seems to play a central role in all the talks at the summit table. Another item in the announcement refers to a relative change in the calendar of US options in dealing with the Iranian issue.
The joint statement includes an explicit commitment to use “all” elements of US forces to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear capabilities, which directly implies that military force has been added to the calendar of US strategic options in dealing with the Iranian threat.
This is a qualitative shift in the Biden administration, which completely excluded any reference to military force in any statement or hint, but was very careful to frame the potential US deterrent tools and surround them with careful conceptual context so as not to give any opportunity for interpretation or analysis.
It has not gone beyond diplomatic tools and the use of the maximum sanctions mechanism as a ceiling for hard power, if it can even be considered in that framework.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that the inclusion in the declaration, in which the US pledges to support Israel’s military superiority in the region and its ability to “defend itself,” is a strategic gain for Israel, as it expands Israel’s room for maneuver and individually strengthens Israel’s deterrence capability against potential threats.
A goal that indirectly aligns with the Biden administration’s policy of nonmilitary engagement in the Middle East. It is Biden’s policy, despite attempts to talk about correcting mistakes and such.
The promise to use force against Iran was not present in the Jerusalem statement, but preceded an important statement by President Biden on the eve of his visit to Israel, in which he said he did not object to using force as a “last resort” against Iran.
President Biden seems to have needed to do this urgently in advance of the visit to avoid any disagreement with the Israeli side on this issue and to ensure that the visit achieves the maximum possible success.
An analysis of the content and implications of the Jerusalem Declaration points to important issues, some of which are related to the domestic policy goals of Prime Minister Yair Lapid and US President Joe Biden. Others relate to US strategy in dealing with the Iranian issue in general.
In this context, it is worth pointing out that the statement has a dual objective, as it represents the strongest message of pressure on Iran to date, at a time when attempts to revive the nuclear agreement seem to have failed.
President Biden now wanted to maximize pressure on Tehran to move it away from its hard-line negotiating position and make concessions that would end the marathon negotiations with an agreement that meets the minimum interests of both sides, the US and Iran.
On the other hand, the US commitment is intended to assuage Israeli concerns about Iran’s growing nuclear capabilities and the security implications for Israel of possible arrangements to revive the nuclear agreement. President Biden thus seeks to reassure Israel’s ally while putting pressure on Iran.
But the question remains: to what extent can these two goals be achieved simultaneously?
Certainly, everything is interrelated, and it is difficult to separate one from the other.
Ultimately, the US commitment to Israel’s security remains an affirmation, albeit not without merit, in that the Biden administration makes a clear and direct message, drawing on a proven US historical approach, without attempting to taking the middle ground or leaving the issue of Israel’s security up to interpretation, as in the case of the Obama administration’s 2015 nuclear deal.
This lends exceptional significance to this announcement, which was directly an official US statement and not a statement by a Democratic party.
The issue of pressure on Iran remains dependent on how the Iranian regime interprets the results of President Biden’s trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, whether announced or not.
Here is where Russian President Vladimir Putin’s upcoming visit to Tehran and talk about a possible meeting with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, comes up. The objectives of the visit cannot be viewed in isolation from President Biden’s trip and its outcomes.
Dr. Salem AlKetbi is UAE political analyst