The White House has been working on a “roadmap for normalization” between Israel and Saudi Arabia ahead of President Biden’s visit to the Middle East next month, according to four U.S. sources briefed on the matter.
Why it’s important: The trip may show that the Biden administration has continued to help advance progress in warming relations between Israel and the Arab world after the Trump administration mediated the Abrahamic agreements, which led to normalization agreements between Israel and four Arab countries.
Driver news: The White House last week held a briefing with think tank experts on Biden’s trip to the region and floated the topic of a “roadmap for normalization” without elaborating, the four sources said.
- The White House said during the briefing that there would be no agreement before Biden’s visit, but they are working on it and the president will discuss it with Israeli and Saudi leaders during the trip, the sources said.
What they say: The White House believes that any roadmap for normalization will take time and will be a long-term process, said another source who briefed on the issue. Another source who was briefed on the case described the strategy as a step-by-step approach.
- A spokesman for the White House National Security Council said they “support the expansion and deepening of Arab-Israeli ties.”
- A senior Israeli official said he did not expect a major breakthrough regarding normalization with Saudi Arabia during Biden’s trip, but stressed that an agreement to allow Israeli airlines to use Saudi airspace for flights to India and China is very close.
- “We do not see Israel as an enemy, but rather as a potential ally in the many interests we can pursue together, but some problems must be resolved before we can achieve it,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said earlier this year. per Bloomberg, quotes the official Saudi Press Agency.
Quick catch up: The Biden administration has quietly brokered between Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt on a potential agreement to complete the transfer of two strategic islands in the Red Sea from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, as Axios first reported.
- If successful, the mediation work can lead to separate normalization steps.
Between the lines: An American source briefed on the plans in the White House said, with the roadmap, he believes the White House is trying to lower expectations of what is possible at the moment and what is not, and focus on starting a process.
The big picture: During Biden’s visit to the Middle East, the White House also plans for the president to discuss a vision for “integrated missile and naval defense” among the United States, Israel and several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, four U.S. sources told Axios.
- Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said during a hearing by the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee on Monday that the United States and Israel are working on an initiative called “The Middle East Air Defense.” He added that Biden’s visit will give the initiative a new push.
- Gantz said the initiative focuses on working with the US Central Command and other countries in the region to counter drone, missile and cruise missile attacks by Iran and its agents.
- A senior Israeli official said the idea was to create a regional network of radars, sensors and air defense systems that would be interconnected to provide early warning and intercept attacks.
- Gantz said several Iranian attacks in the region have already been prevented. A senior Israeli official said such an attack was a shooting down of an Iranian drone over Iraq in February 2021 by US forces using Israeli intelligence.
What you should see: The political instability in Israel and the early elections may change the calculations in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region in terms of normalization steps.
Go deeper: The United States is negotiating an agreement between Saudi Arabia, Israelis and Egyptians