Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)’s interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier was an inflection point in global affairs. There were world affairs before the interview and world affairs after the interview.
The fireworks started immediately, and a major focus was Iran.
Saudi Arabia and its fellow Sunni Arab states oppose the US’s nuclear appeasement of Tehran just as fervently as does Israel. But over the past decade, the Sunnis opted to let Israel do the heavy lifting. They gave off-the-record briefings to reporters backing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s protests, but they didn’t take the stage themselves.
In a nutshell, the Obama-Biden policy is to enable Iran to become a nuclear threshold state — and beyond. The idea, as explained at various points by former President Barack Obama and his senior aides, was that Iran acted as a rogue state because of Israel’s alleged nuclear arsenal. The key to stabilizing the Middle East, they contended, was to realign the US away from Israel and its traditional Sunni Arab allies and towards Iran.
Empowering Iran, first and foremost through nuclear appeasement, would enable Iran to balance Israel. Just as the balance of terror between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War prevented nuclear war, so a balance of terror between Israel and Iran would prevent nuclear war.
Efforts by Israelis and other opponents of Obama’s vision to explain the absurdity of the former president’s comparison made no headway. Obama and his advisers refused to acknowledge that Iran is not a status quo power — it is a revolutionary regime that sees itself as the spearhead and leader of an Islamic supremacist empire, which it has built through terror, radicalization and war. As a result, the US-USSR mutually assured destruction nuclear deterrence model cannot work in the Iranian case.
Today, President Joe Biden and his team of Obama alumni are pursuing Obama’s vision with redoubled energy, and the results have been disastrous, with Iran on the brink of a nuclear arsenal.
MBS didn’t require a long speech to explain why the administration’s policy can’t work. He did it in one sentence.
Bret Baier asked him how Saudi Arabia would respond to a nuclear-armed Iran. He responded simply, “If they get [a nuclear weapon], we will have to get one, for security reasons, for balancing power in the Middle East.”
MBS is not alone. If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, the Middle East will become fully nuclearized. Regime after regime will procure nuclear weapons to guard against other regimes that already have them.
By bluntly stating the obvious, MBS showed that the Biden administration’s Iran policy is leading to a fully nuclearized Middle East. Now that the truth is out, Biden and his advisers have a choice. They can stay on their current course and be held responsible for their actions, or they can reverse course and adopt a strategy that will prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state and keep the Middle East nuclear free, pro-American and stable.
During his meeting last Wednesday, Netanyahu set out the strategy for blocking Iran’s (short) path to a nuclear arsenal. Netanyahu said a winning strategy has three components: “A credible military threat, crippling sanctions and supporting the brave men and women of Iran who despise that regime and who are our real partners for a better future.”
It’s been one year since the Iranian regime murdered Mahsa Amini for failing to cover her hair in accordance with the regime’s misogynistic regulations. Amini’s torture and death sparked a massive protest movement by Iran’s youth. At great risk — and ultimately great cost — those brave young people brought the regime to the brink of collapse as military units broke ranks and joined the protesters demanding freedom.
Rather than grab the opportunity to free Iran and the world from the Islamic regime, the Biden administration doubled down on its nuclear appeasement. On Monday, the administration paid the regime a $6 billion bribe. It released Iranian terrorists and nuclear proliferators held in US prisons in exchange for five American hostages held in Iran. More billions are said to be on their way.
Iran repaid the US for its appeasement by doubling down on its aggression.
In his UN speech last Tuesday, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi didn’t thank the US for its generosity and good faith. He renewed the regime’s commitment to murdering US officials, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for their role in the 2020 assassination of Iran’s terror chief Qassem Soleimani.
How Biden and his team will respond to MBS’s challenge is difficult to determine. To date, they have shown no willingness to shift course. But however they proceed, after MBS’s interview they will do so without the advantage of ambiguity. Everyone now knows where their policy is leading.
Iran isn’t the only policy area where MBS directed a warning to the administration. His admission that Saudi Arabia will get nuclear weapons if Iran does went along with his argument for a mutual security treaty with the US
Noting that Saudi Arabia is by far the largest purchaser of American military platforms, he explained that the purpose of a security guarantee is both to assure supply for the Saudis and protect American military industries. It would be a shame to buy from others, MBS said, but we will if the US won’t commit to selling us what we want.
This brings us to Saudi Arabia’s demand for a civil nuclear program. There’s a lot of talk about what the US and Israel might accept and what they cannot accept. But MBS’s statement rendered all of it a bit beside the point. The cat is out of the bag. No, Riyadh doesn’t want to develop radioactive isotopes for medical research. It wants the bomb if Iran gets it.
If the US is prepared to let Iran go nuclear, then it needs to be prepared for Saudi Arabia (and everyone else) to follow suit. Otherwise, in addition, the US will lose the Saudi arms market. So, either the US stands with Saudi Arabia and blocks Iran from going nuclear or Saudi Arabia will find other weapons suppliers and get the bomb itself.
his brings us to the third major issue MBS discussed: A US-brokered peace with Israel. Here too, MBS’s statements were nothing less than extraordinary. It isn’t that MBS promised a peace deal imminently. Indeed, it’s possible that it won’t happen for a long time. It’s far from clear that his father King Salman sees Israel as MBS does. But MBS made no effort to hide how he sees Israel.
The first concrete topic MBS raised was the rail and communications link from India through the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel that will reduce shipping from Asia to Europe by three to six days. The project, officially launched last week at the G20, is being presented as an Indian-Saudi-European project, and it is. But more momentous than a logistics train, the infrastructure link spells the effective end of the Arab-Israeli conflict. When the project becomes operational, Israel will be the hub of the transcontinental network. Israel’s security and stability will become a regional and global interest.
The most interesting aspect of MBS’s statements about the prospect for peace with Israel was how he presented Israel on the one hand and the Palestinians on the other.
The Biden administration and the Israeli left have presented the prospects of a US-brokered peace deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia as a means to advance the Palestinians at Israel’s expense or, at a minimum, the expense of Netanyahu’s right-religious coalition. The deal as they have telegraphed it would require Israel to make massive territorial concessions to the Palestinians.
The basic idea behind the administration’s discourse on a Saudi-Israel deal is that Israel is the problem and the Palestinians are the solution. To get to peace with Saudi Arabia, Israel first has to placate the Palestinians. This is the opposite of the vision behind the Saudi-backed Abraham Accords, which removed the Palestinians’ veto over Arab-Israel peace. It viewed the Palestinians as an obstacle to peace and Israel as the goal.
Given the US’s position, MBS could have been expected to talk about a “two-state solution,” as Biden and his advisers do incessantly. He might have been expected to set out precisely where Israel is supposed to surrender territory to the Palestinians.
Baier pressed MBS on the Palestinian issue. MBS’s responses signaled strongly that he is adhering to the Abraham Accords framework.
MBS, to be sure, insisted that “the Palestinian issue is very important.” But notably, he never mentioned a Palestinian state or a two-state solution. He never mentioned Israeli territorial concessions. He certainly didn’t portray Israel as an obstacle to peace. Instead, he focused on Israel.
MBS said that the Saudis “hope to reach a peace where it will ease the lives of the Palestinians and get Israel as a player in the Middle East.”
Israel is the “player,” the sought-after partner. The Palestinians need to be helped.
By the time MBS’s interview was broadcast, Netanyahu’s visit was already a massive and, in many ways, shocking success. As he prepared for his trip, Netanyahu faced two major challenges: A hostile Biden administration and a massively funded group of Israeli anarchists who hoped to capitalize on his visit to escalate their now ten-month political war against him and his government. When Netanyahu flew to San Francisco on Sunday night, it was far from clear that he would survive their multi-million-dollar campaign to demonize and discredit him.
By Thursday morning, it was fairly clear that the anarchists were a spent force, even if they didn’t realize it. Netanyahu had restored his position in the first row of global statesmen.
Baier asked MBS twice if he believed that he can do a deal with Netanyahu. The question was not explicit. But it was obvious that Baier was asking MBS what he thought of the left’s efforts to sow domestic chaos by claiming that Netanyahu’s electoral victory is unacceptable. MBS wouldn’t take the bait. He responded that he will deal with whoever is the leader of Israel. In other words: Of course he can make a deal with Netanyahu. That’s who he’s negotiating with.
During Israel’s 2014 war against the Hamas terror state in Gaza, Obama tried to force Netanyahu to succumb to Hamas’ ceasefire demands. He was blindsided when Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt all stood with Israel against Hamas (and Obama) and rejected Hamas’ stipulations.
Wednesday may be remembered as the day the MBS-Netanyahu partnership came into full view. With Netanyahu at Biden’s side in New York and MBS on American television, the two leaders explained what can happen if the US stands with its allies and what will happen if America stands instead with Iran.