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U.S. nears historic defense treaty with Saudi Arabia to promote Israel normalization

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  • The U.S. is close to finalizing a defense treaty with Saudi Arabia to encourage normalization with Israel.
  • The treaty includes U.S. security guarantees and potential access to advanced military technology for Saudi Arabia.
  • The agreement faces significant challenges, including Congressional approval and concerns about regional stability and nuclear proliferation.

The Biden administration is on the cusp of finalizing a landmark defense treaty with Saudi Arabia, a strategic move designed to encourage normalization between the Kingdom and Israel. This historic agreement, which promises U.S. security guarantees to Saudi Arabia, is poised to significantly alter the geopolitical dynamics of the Middle East.

The proposed defense treaty is part of a broader U.S. strategy to foster stability in the Middle East by strengthening alliances and countering regional threats. According to sources, the treaty would commit the U.S. to defend Saudi Arabia against external threats, similar to the defense pact the U.S. has with South Korea. However, it stops short of the mutual defense guarantee enshrined in NATO’s Article 5.

Ali Bakir, a professor at Qatar University, described the potential deal as "vague and general," noting that it may not fully meet Saudi Arabia's demands given the complex security environment of the Middle East, where non-state actors play a significant role.

Saudi Arabia's Expectations

Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seeks robust security guarantees and access to advanced U.S. military technology. The Kingdom's primary objective is to secure American underwriting of its defense, potentially including its civilian nuclear program. This would not only enhance Saudi Arabia's military capabilities but also position it as a formidable power in the region.

Kristian Alexander, head of the International Security and Terrorism Program at Trends Research & Advisory, highlighted that the U.S. would provide security guarantees to Saudi Arabia, which might include commitments to defend the Kingdom in the event of external threats. The agreement could also allow Saudi Arabia access to sophisticated U.S. military technology that was previously restricted.

U.S. Strategic Interests

For the U.S., the defense treaty with Saudi Arabia is a strategic move to counter Iranian influence and limit China's growing presence in the region. The Biden administration is also leveraging this agreement to push for Saudi-Israel normalization, a significant diplomatic win that could reshape alliances in the Middle East.

According to Bloomberg, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would "limit Chinese technology from his nation’s most sensitive networks in exchange for major U.S. investments in artificial intelligence and quantum computing, and get American help to build out its civilian nuclear program".

Challenges and Skepticism

Despite the potential benefits, the proposed defense treaty faces significant challenges. The U.S. Congress, which must approve the agreement, is divided on the issue. Some lawmakers view Saudi Arabia as an unreliable partner due to its human rights record and involvement in the Yemen conflict. Additionally, the absence of Saudi-Israeli normalization poses a significant obstacle, as Congress is unlikely to approve any defense pact without it.

Moreover, the logistics of formalizing such a defense agreement are complex. The U.S. does not easily create formal defense agreements, and the Saudis will want something written in stone. "The United States doesn’t have defense pacts with a lot of countries. It has mutual defense pacts with countries in NATO. But the idea of a written defense pact is not something the United States normally gives nor does it give because it means that there’s a possibility that Americans will die in accordance with the requirements of the pact, and that requires a lot on the other side," said Alterman.

Potential Risks

Critics argue that the defense treaty could embolden Saudi Arabia's military interventionism and increase the risk of a nuclear arms race in the Persian Gulf. The deal could also draw U.S. forces into regional conflicts, especially if the two countries have signed a defense pact. Furthermore, the combination of strengthened security ties and U.S. assistance for developing civilian nuclear power in Saudi Arabia may not prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons but instead increase the risk.

The Biden administration's push for a defense treaty with Saudi Arabia is a bold move aimed at reshaping the Middle East's geopolitical landscape. While the potential benefits are significant, the challenges and risks cannot be ignored. As negotiations continue, the world watches closely to see if this landmark agreement will come to fruition and what it will mean for the future of the region.

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