Saudi Arabia is resolutely pursuing a military pact with the United States, aimed at securing U.S. defense of the kingdom in exchange for normalized ties with Israel.
This determination remains unwavering, even in the absence of significant concessions by Israel to the Palestinians regarding their quest for statehood, according to three sources familiar with the ongoing discussions in the region.
Initially, Saudi Arabia sought a NATO-style defense guarantee when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and U.S. President Joe Biden first broached the topic during Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia in July 2022.
However, it now appears that the pact may take a different form, possibly resembling agreements the United States has with Asian nations.
Alternatively, it could mirror the U.S.-Bahrain agreement, where the presence of the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet is established without requiring congressional approval.
To sweeten the deal, Washington could also designate Saudi Arabia as a Major Non-NATO Ally, similar to Israel’s status.
However, the central demand from Saudi Arabia remains binding assurances of U.S. protection in the event of an attack, such as the missile strikes on Saudi oil facilities in September 2019, which were attributed to Iran.
A pact between Saudi Arabia and the United States, combined with normalized relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, would have profound implications for the Middle East.
It would bring together two traditional adversaries while strengthening ties between Riyadh and Washington, especially in light of China’s growing influence in the region.
For President Biden, such an achievement would be a notable diplomatic success to showcase in the run-up to the 2024 U.S. election.
However, this potential pact could come at the expense of Palestinian statehood aspirations.
Similar to previous Arab-Israeli agreements, the core Palestinian demand for statehood might be sidelined, as Saudi Arabia prioritizes normalizing relations with Israel.
A U.S. official has indicated that the parameters of the defense pact are still under negotiation.
It is expected to be more akin to the U.S.-Israel relationship, which involves military support and joint military exercises rather than a formal treaty alliance.
The U.S. is hesitant to commit to a NATO Article 5-style guarantee, which would consider an attack on one ally as an attack on all.
While Saudi Arabia has shown a willingness to compromise on certain demands, including its plans for civilian nuclear technology, it still insists on U.S. commitment to protect its territory in case of an attack. The deal could resemble the U.S.-Bahrain agreement with additional commitments.
Despite ongoing negotiations, winning support from U.S. Congress remains a challenge, given previous criticism of Saudi actions in Yemen, oil market manipulation, and the Jamal Khashoggi case.
Nevertheless, a successful pact would help the United States establish a strategic axis with Israel and Saudi Arabia, countering China’s growing influence in the region and reasserting its presence.
In the end, while Saudi Arabia expresses support for a Palestinian peace plan, it is currently prioritizing its own interests in normalizing relations with Israel, potentially reshaping the dynamics of the Middle East in the process.