31 May 2011

Saudi and Israeli discomfort with Obama

Fascinating strains are opening up between the US and two of its bedrock allies in the Middle East – Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

The recent visit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington was neatly described in White House photos which depicted the unsmiling faces of the President and the Prime Minister looking in opposite directions. Netanyahu’s appearance in front of a rare session of the joint Houses of Congress provided worse. To opposition Republican applause, he rejected almost everything the President had asked of him. Not least, he rejected the internationally agreed factor (UN resolution 242) that any peace settlement returns Israel to its pre-1967 borders.

Mr Obama is now wrestling with ways to deal with Israel in a US election year. But many inside America’s so-called ‘Jewish lobby’, are reportedly frustrated with the Israeli leadership’s failure to respond to the developing new order that is flowing from the ‘Arab Spring’.

As to Saudi Arabia, the New York Times has had rare access to one of the regime’s inaccessible Princes – Prince Waleed bin Talal al-Saud. He has laid out the Kingdom’s annoyance with Mr Obama’s embrace of the ‘Arab Spring’.

The Saudis are in the midst of negotiating a vast $60 billion weapons contract with Washington. The US depends for a third of its oil on Saudi Arabia. Some inside the regime are questioning Riyadh’s long term reliance on the US to protect its interests.

Fresh from ploughing $billions into the Egyptian economy and splashing cash and force across the region and amongst its own population to try to stem the rising pressures on the Arab dictatorships, the Saudis have set up a kind of ‘Club of Kings’ that ranges from Morocco through Jordan, to Bahrain, to try to argue that kings do not suffer from the same defects that the region’s other dictatorships manifest. Given the repression of its own opposition movements and its heavy handed, British-trained intervention in Bahrain, it may be a hard argument to pursue.

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