LIKE the rest of the world, the Middle East, too, is closely monitoring the developments in the US after Joe Biden’s victory. This region is very important for the US, and the US is very important for this region.
And, it is not surprising because this is the land of many thorny issues – the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, the Iranian nuclear programme, terrorism, Islamic State, Yemen war, Libya, Syria and so on. We are waiting to see how these issues will evolve after January.
Biden’s victory is certain to have an impact on every Gulf country, too, though in different ways. Saudi Arabia is likely to face the maximum heat because it has the most at stake. Biden has made his thinking very clear on a number of sensitive issues related to Riyadh.
He would want Mohammed bin Salman to release a number of prominent detainees, especially women, and he will also open the file on journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing and the war in Yemen.
So, it seems the Saudis have already started planning for the next four years. First of all, let us take a look at the flurry of developments in Saudi Arabia after Biden’s victory.
Soon after the Democrats clinched victory, Saudi Arabia made a slew of political moves and sent some messages to the world. Addressing the country’s top advisory body, King Salman bin Abdulaziz urged the world to take a “decisive stance” to address Iran’s efforts to develop its nuclear programme and slammed Iran’s interference in other countries’ affairs and its support for terrorism and extremism. Later, the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars announced that the Muslim Brotherhood is a ‘terrorist group that does not represent the principles of Islam.’
Parallel to these statements, a gunman opened fire outside the Saudi Embassy in The Hague, which happened a day after a World War I commemoration, attended by European diplomats, was attacked in Jeddah. Several people were injured in that attack.
Saudi also announced it had thwarted an attack on the kingdom by Houthi rebels. Saudi naval forces also uncovered a plot by the Houthis to carry out a hostile act in the south of the Red Sea using two booby-trapped boats. Saudis also destroyed an explosive-laden drone launched by the Houthis toward the Kingdom.
Interestingly, all these have happened within 10 days of Mike Pompeo’s expected visit to the region, which will be his last as Secretary of State under the Trump administration.
Why so many terrorist attacks, acts of violence and warnings within a few days, and that, too, in a country which is under strict security? Are they part of a larger plan which will unfold in the coming days? Is Trump planning a major military strike before leaving office to further his interest? The questions assume significance, especially after The New York Times reported that the president might carry out an attack in the region before leaving the White House.
Also, Pompeo’s visit assumes significance in the backdrop of these events. What is the purpose of his visit? There are two scenarios that come to my mind. First, the visit could be to explore the possibility of an attack on Iran. Trump will be happy to launch a military strike against Iran to further his agenda. He is not yet done with all the sanctions he has imposed on Tehran.
Secondly, the visit could be to prepare a strategy for the next four years when Biden is in office. Trump would need the support of his close friends in the region when he is out of power, and his close friends in the region would want him to come back at any cost after four years.
It is a win-win situation. Pompeo should be coming with a bundle of ideas and strategies to be implemented in the coming four years.
The recent attacks in Saudi and elsewhere fit into the larger agenda of Saudis and Trump. Riyadh wants to prove that terrorism, Islamic Brotherhood and Islamic State are still very much alive, and that Iran continues to be an existential threat and Yemen war is a necessity rather than a humanitarian disaster. New facts must be created to drive home this point.
It seems that whatever happens, our region is going to become another battleground for Trump and Biden.