Mr. Biden’s pilgrimage to Jeddah – Analysis – Eurasia Review


US President Joe Biden’s controversial pilgrimage to Jeddah is part of a larger and more complex geopolitical puzzle with several states bordering the Gulf and Red Sea trying to hedge their bets and play rival global and regional powers against each other. against others.

Widely seen as a drop in the knee after the president has refused since taking office to interact with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Mr Biden’s visit is likely to prove a double-edged sword for United States.

Mr. Bin Salman and other regional leaders will have welcomed Mr. Biden’s assurance that the United States, with tens of thousands of troops in the region, wouldn’t give up on the middle east and allow Iran to become a nuclear power.

The problem is that solace comes from a man who may not be in office three years from now and from a country whose credibility and authority have been eroded, not least by Mr Biden’s Saudi knee fall. .

Even so, attempts to hedge bets and build leverage will seek to increase the region’s relevance to the international community, particularly the United States, rather than supplant the United States as the main responsible for the security of the region.

The maneuvers will also heighten regional rivalries, especially in the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa, which featured prominently in a joint statement released by the United States and Saudi Arabia during Mr Biden’s visit to the kingdom. Some 30% of world container traffic passes through these rivers every year.

The statement stressed the importance of preserving the free flow of trade through strategic international waterways like the Bab al-Mandab and the Strait of Hormuz.

He noted that a recently created maritime unit, Combined Task Force 153, would focus on strengthening security in the Bab-al Mandab and intercepting contraband to war-torn Yemen. In addition, the statement welcomed Saudi Arabia’s assumption of command of a similar unit, Combined Task Force 150, which operates in the Gulf of Oman and the North Arabian Sea.

From Mr. Biden’s perspective, the projection of enhanced security cooperation with regional actors has been bolstered by reports that Russian efforts to establish a naval baseRussia’s first in Africa, in the Sudanese city of Port Sudan on the Red Sea, was faltering due to differences between the African country’s military leadership.

So far, so good.

More problematic from Mr. Biden’s perspective is that the Gulf states are cooperating closely with China, which has acquired stakes in ports and terminals in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Oman and Djibouti, where the People’s Republic has a military base.

The environment becomes more complex in light of increased competition among US allies for regional influence and Iran’s buildup of the Islamic Republic’s naval capabilities.

Regarding ports, Mr. Bin Salman plans to turn his kingdom into a transportation and logistics hub that connects continents and replaces the United Arab Emirates and Qatar as essential addresses in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia is a latecomer to the global port control game in which Dubai‘s DP World and China are major players. DP World operates 82 marine and inland terminals in more than 40 countries, including Djibouti, Somaliland, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Cyprus and, most importantly, the central port of Jebel Ali in Dubai.

Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Gateway Terminal (RSGT), backed by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, is initially targeting ports that would service vital Saudi importslike food.

“We have a focus on the ports of Sudan and Egypt. They weren’t chosen for that reason, but they happen to be important countries for Saudi Arabia’s food security strategy,” said Jens Floe, Managing Director of RSGT.

Last year the BIP and Cosco’s Chinese Shipping Ports bought a 20 percent stake in RSGT. The Chinese investment is part of China’s Belt and Road strategy, which included acquiring stakes in ports and terminals in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Oman and Djibouti, where China has a military base.

The United Arab Emirates halted the construction of a Chinese port project near Abu Dhabi at the end of 2020 after US officials have claimed that China intends to use the site for military purposes.

While Saudi port plans have yet to go beyond modernize the King Abdulaziz Port of Dammam and by strengthening its crane capacity, Abu Dhabi Ports has agreed to develop, operate and manage a terminal at Safaga Port on the east coast of Egypt as part of a consortium.

Safaga, south of Hurghada, a Red Sea resort, exports phosphates and hosts a ferry for Hajj pilgrims to Duba in Saudi Arabia.

The UAE is potentially more ruthless in its competition for control of the region’s waterways. A pro-Houthi Yemeni news agency claimed that the UAE was seeking to change the demographics in his favor from the strategic Yemeni island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean.

The agency, Hodhod, said UAE police were recruiting Yemenis from Socotra in large numbers and transferring them off the island. He claimed that Emiratis willing to move to Socotra received 100,000 dirhams ($27,200). However, it was not clear why a significant number of Emiratis would want to leave the hypermodern United Arab Emirates for an abandoned island.

The UAE appeared to be playing both ends against the middle as Iranian state television trumpeted that the Islamic republic had welcomed Mr Biden’s visit by strengthen its ability to put armed drones on warships in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean.

The United States and its allies consider Iranian drones that Iran and its allies have used to target critical infrastructure, including oil facilities in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and shipping in the Gulf, a major threat.

Forging its own path, the UAE has moved away from the security-focused anti-Iran content of Mr. Biden’s meetings with Mr. Bin Salman and the leaders of the other Gulf countries and Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.

“We are open to cooperation, but no cooperation targeted at another country in the regionand I specifically mention Iran… We need to find solutions, and we also need to use economic cooperation in various fields,” said Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed.

With Mr. Biden still in the area, Mr. Gargash revealed that the United Arab Emirates sought to return its ambassador to Iran for the first time since 2016. The United Arab Emirates downgraded diplomatic ties after a mob attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran to protest the execution of a senior Saudi Shia cleric.

While the UAE is defining its own position and states like Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Iraq are unlikely at this stage to adopt confrontational policies towards Iran, Mr. Biden’s main anti-Iranian regional pillars are Saudi Arabia, his appendage Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and Israel.

This left Mr Biden no choice but to eat a humble pie on his way to Jeddah. This was all the more true given the president’s tendency to reinforce approaches that have not solved any of the multiple problems of the Middle East rather than integrating them into broader and bolder policies that may prove more efficient.


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