Opinion: Biden’s concessions in the Middle East backfire

In his first weeks in office, the Biden Administration has berated Saudi Arabia and made concessions to Iran. How are things so far?

On Monday, Israel accused Iran of being responsible for an explosion on an Israeli commercial ship. Over the weekend, Tehran rejected pleas from the United States and Europe to renegotiate the nuclear deal, while the Iranian-backed Houthi militia stepped up its attacks on Saudi Arabia from Yemen with a missile and drone launch.

Biden’s team appears to have hoped that “recalibrating” the US relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has fought the 2015 Houthi takeover in neighboring Yemen, would reduce the war there. The Houthis have other ideas. In early February, the State Department said it would reverse the group’s designation as a terrorist organization, but days later it had to release a statement that it was “deeply concerned about the continued Houthi attacks.”

The attacks have persisted and now Foggy Bottom’s language is more direct: “The United States strongly condemns the attacks by the Houthis on population centers in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, February 27,” State said Sunday. “We call on the Houthis to stop these heinous attacks.”

But why would the Houthis listen, when the United States has legitimized them with a sanctions reprieve for nothing, and when it broadcasts a strategy to accommodate its backers in Tehran? Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is on the defensive as Washington downgrades the alliance and restricts arms sales.


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