The Biden administration has approved Israel for its visa waiver program despite its abysmal record record on Palestinian-American travelers entering or exiting the country. I’ve published numerous posts here and recently in The New Arab about this betrayal of Palestinian-American citizens. Despite Israel’s claim that it treats them the same as the US treats Israeli citizens, and despite a promise that it will improve treatment of Palestinian travelers, it continues to flagrantly violate the terms of the program itself. The notion that the US will police Israeli compliance and force adherence to its rules is laughable. Israel has gotten its cherished visa-free gift and the US has gotten nothing in return.
The next gift to Israel appears to be a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia, which will also offer the Saudis a nuclear reactor and a mutual defense pact. As with the visa waiver approval, Israel will give but a few trinkets in exchange. It has promised the Saudis unspecified relief for the Palestinians, which is far short of what the Saudis themselves have demanded in the past: an independent Palestinian state. Now, the Saudis are perfectly willing to give up the Palestinians for their 30 pieces of silver.
The US has sought Israeli approval for the most nettlesome part of the deal as far as Israel is concerned: the nuclear reactor. It is aware that a “civilian” nuclear reactor can fairly easily be turned into a military reactor, enriching enough uranium to produce a nuclear weapon. No promise by the Saudis or undertaking by the US that this reactor will be restricted to civilian use, is credible.
Note that Israel itself claimed it was building its Dimona reactor for such use, and by 1970 it had a bomb. It even agreed to US inspection, then disguised the entrance to the reactor, hiding it from inspectors. By the time the US discovered the ruse, it already had the bomb and presidents decided not to make an issue of it. Another example of Israeli impunity. The world routinely permits it to get away with murder–sometimes literally.
Netanyahu confidant, Ron Dermer traveled to Washington last August to hear from Biden officials about their plans. He averred that Israel might accept a Saudi reactor. An astonishing about-face for a country which has bombed three different Middle Eastern countries pursing a nuclear program (Iraq, Syria, and Iran).
A Saudi bomb in the hands of an aggressive dictatorial Mohammed bin Salman is a danger not just to the region, but to the world. He’s already murdered nearly 100,000 Yemenis fighting in a useless war there. A war which the Biden and Trump administrations have fueled with US weapons.
Though Iran has not produced a nuclear weapon, let alone a weapons-delivery system that could carry one–a Saudi reactor would escalate tension. It would likely motivate Iran to escalate its own program. Perhaps to assemble a weapon or advance its plans for a ballistic missile that could carry the bomb.
Further, though the US would inspect the Saudi reactor to ensure compliance with terms of the transfer, the Saudis could easily conceal their work (as Israel did) or refuse access to any inspectors as Iran has done. Nor has Saudi Arabia joined the IAEA or has any prior experience with its inspection protocols. In other words, no matter what is agreed beforehand, there is no guarantee the terms will be honored. If Saudi Arabia ever does make a bomb; and if it ever uses one, the US will be blamed. We gave them the technology. We are responsible.
Israel’s foreign minister made a reverse version of this argument replacing Saudi Arabia with Iran:
If the regime [Iran] builds a nuclear weapon, it would almost certainly ignite a regional nuclear arms race. Nations such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt and Turkey might feel pressured to bolster their defenses. While a regional arms race might seem an inevitable response to Iran’s growing might, it would severely destabilize the area, potentially plunging the entire Middle East into conflict.
Iran already has the capability to build a nuclear bomb. But it has deliberately chosen not to precisely in order not to incite such an arms race. In this sense, his claim was misplaced. But with a Saudi nuclear capability, all bets are off. A Saudi bomb would motivate all the nations he listed to get one of their own.
One of Israel’s finest strategic analysts, Shmuel Meir, notes the danger this poses to the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty:
An agreement on the part of a nuclear weapons states, from the five member “nuclear club”, to provide Saudi Arabia with the option of enriching uranium on its soil would have far reaching global consequences and could signify the beginning of the disintegration of the NPT and the global order which prevented the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Both the US and Israel should remember they have created golems who started out as allies and turned into sworn and potent enemies. For the Israelis, it was Hamas and Hezbollah; for the US it was the Taliban. Biden has no guarantee that the Saudi leadership will in future honor any commitments made by the current leader, Mohammed bin Salman. Remember the Biblical verse: “a Pharaoh arose who knew not Joseph?” Joseph’s loyalty to the prior Egyptian leader gained him nothing with a successor. As a result, the Israelites endured years of slavery. In the Saudi case, they cannot enslave the world. But they will be able to destroy it.
Mutual defense or military quagmire
The proposed mutual defense pact is also problematic as I wrote in an earlier blog post. Pres. Biden has deliberately avoided further Middle East-South Asian entanglements. Our troop commitment in Syria is minimal. We withdrew from Afghanistan. There is no longer talk of a joint US-Israel attack on Iran.
Yet a mutual defense pact obligates us to put boots on the ground in a country which is no longer key to our global strategic interests. Yes, there are similar pacts with countries like Japan and Korea. We also created the NATO alliance with European states, featuring an even stronger mutual defense component. But those are countries facing two major US rivals: China and Russia. The US allies mentioned above are key economic engines in the region and world. Defending them is in US interests. What interest is served by going to war to defend a fundamentalist, kleptocratic, murderous regime? We no longer need their oil. We share virtually no values with them. Why do this except for it serving Israeli interests. What do we owe Israel, a fundamentalist, violent, corrupt regime?
בעקבות הסכם הגנה אמריקאי-סעודי תגיע ברית הגנה רוסית-איראנית.
המשמעות: רוסיה תתחייב לראות בהתקפה על איראן התקפה עליה. סוף הזיות המבצע הישראלי נגד איראן.
המאזן: נירמול היחסים עם סעודיה יעלה לישראל בהתקדמות מול הרשות הפלשתינית ובגניזת מלחמת איראן.
סה״כ: טוב לישראל, רע לנתניהו.
— אמיר אורן – Amir Oren (@Rimanero) September 20, 2023
If we become Saudi Arabia’s guarantor, do we think Iran will sit back and do nothing? Or that they will shiver with dread and fear? No. As one of Israel’s most astute political journalists, Amir Oren, wrote (see tweet above): when we sign that pact with the Saudis, Iran will sign precisely the same pact with Russia. By then, the latter may no longer be entangled in Ukraine, and able to throw its weight in support of Iran. Or if Russia isn’t its partner, the Chinese could step in. After all, they have a $400-billion trade pact with Iran. Given the US-China conflict, the latter would be extremely interested in being Iran’s bulwark against US-Saudi aggression.
As for Palestine, it will end with a few crumbs from the table. Instead of a Palestinian state, which the Saudis have demanded for decades, MBS will settle for a few cosmetic economic benefits, which mean almost nothing. The Saudis will resume funding which they stopped in 2016.
The Israelis won’t offer much of anything. They’ve announced that they will send the PA $90-million in taxes they’ve collected (and stolen) on its behalf. Note that this a pittance of the total amount in taxes which is due to the PA, from import duties which Israel has collected and confiscated. In effect, Israel has stolen the funds and holds them hostage in order to punish the Palestinians when they don’t accede to Israeli demands.
There has been talk of Israel “handing over” more territory to Palestinian control. Which is laughable because those areas which are supposed to now be under its control, aren’t. Israeli forces invade it at will. They disarm or kill Palestinian security forces who dare to interfere. The invades villages in the dead of night, trash homes, arrest and kill teenagers. In other words, Israeli commitments mean nothing. They aren’t enforceable and there is no recourse when they are violated.
When Palestinians are relegated to an afterthought in this process, what impact does the US think it will have on them? Likely, Biden officials will wash their hands of it and make it Israel’s “problem.” All of this is a recipe for even more despair than there already is. More armed resistance. More blood flowing in Israel and Palestinian streets. More dead children.