The White House’s sidestepping of a question about Saudi Arabia last night is the latest in a series of events which both sour US-Saudi relations, and herald a victory for Iran. Tensions began several days ago, when President Joe Biden announced that the US would no longer support Saudi Arabia’s Yemen offensive the Yemeni Civil War, a war being fought between the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and the Yemeni Government with Saudi support. The Biden Administration’s decision came after calls from leftists and liberals to put a stop to the war, which has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people, though critics of the decision say Iranian support of the rebels is a threat to the security of both Saudi Arabia (which shares a border with Yemen) and the international community at large.
With Israel’s Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman yet to even receive a phone call from Joe Biden, it seems to many that the new President is trying to change the role of America in the Middle East. His approach is certainly very different to that of President Trump, who during his time in office increased US support for the Saudis and even designated the Houthis as a terrorist organisation. President Trump was also very close with Israel, who he helped thaw relations with several Arab nations to try and create a peaceful Middle East, for which he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Today, however, the Biden Administration’s position on the Middle East both threatens Saudi prowess and provides the Iranians with an opportunity to seize power in the region.
Last night, when asked about relations with the Saudis and Israelis, press secretary Jen Psaki dodged the question by saying that the administration had only been in power for three and a half weeks, and was still discussing ‘a range of issues in the Middle East’, though she did acknowledge America’s relationship with Israel as ‘long and important’. However, if the Biden administration continues to push away its two Middle Eastern allies, it could give Iranian-backed proxies an upper-hand throughout the region. The Iranians already have an established presence in Iraq after Iranian-backed militias helped fight the so-called Islamic State, and their support of Hezbollah makes them a powerful force in Lebanese politics. Iran has long been an ally of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who is trying to retake control of Syria after years of bloody civil war during which he was supported by Iran and Russia.
If Yemen falls, it could have a terrible impact on Saudi Arabia, as the pro-US Kingdom will have to share a border with the pro-Iran rebels, giving Iran yet another foothold in an area of the world that has seen multiple conflicts over the last decade. The world would almost certainly feel the ripple effects, and Iran would be much more powerful at the negotiating table. This looks increasingly likely, especially after it emerged that the US has been pressuring the UK to stop selling arms to the Saudis (its long-time allies). It looks as if Biden is trying to rewrite the rule-book on American foreign policy. Yet the results of this, many Saudis fear, could be disastrous.