Biden’s Suspension of Middle East Arms Deals Is Clear Signal That ‘America Is Back’

power struggles as Joe Biden’s new foreign policy tsar has indicated that they can no longer play by their own rules. Prepare for Abraham Accords 2.0

It should not have come as a surprise to the royal elites of both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but the decision of Joe Biden to suspend all arms sales to these countries is a thunderbolt none the less, if certainly to the sustainability of their campaigns in Yemen, then certainly to how Gulf Arab countries in general carry out their inept hegemony in the region.

The decision by Biden to suspend arms sales so as a new dialogue and agreement can be honed, using the Abraham Accords as the basis, is not unprecedented as many U.S. presidents have reviewed arms sales signed off by their predecessors, of allies once in office.

But this swift, truculent action, which some might see as almost an act of war in itself due to its impact, will send a very clear signal to the Saudis in particular, that the war in Yemen has to be ended immediately. Biden’s move may be seen by regional analysts as a hint that out of the two allies in Yemen – Saudi Arabia and the UAE – it is the former who he sees as the problem; given that both GCC countries turned on one another in recent years about the Yemen’s future with each backing different sides and the UAE supporting the separatist movement called the Southern Transitional Council (STC) which aims to overthrow the Saudi-backed incumbent leadership, over all peace was made even harder since 2017.

The temporary arms ban appears, according to initial reports, to be harder on the Saudis and will send a clear message to its crown prince Mohamed bin Salman that there’s a new sheriff in town.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a senior administration official said the weapons sales to Saudi Arabia were “being frozen pending the review, but that sales to the Emirates were not frozen while they are being examined”.

Yet the UAE has hardly got off lightly. Biden is also sending a lucid message also to Mohamed Bin Zayed there that Abu Dhabi also needs to be reigned in, over its campaign in Libya.

The $23 billion arms package to the UAE includes long-lead items such as jet fighters and drones that wouldn’t be delivered in some cases for years, but the message from Biden is clear: we need to talk about Libya.

The derailing of the UAE deal was in reality an extension of many in Biden’s own party who failed in Congress to get the deal blocked back in December of last year with many voicing fears of how the weapons would be used both in Yemen and in Libya. There is also real worry by many senators of how close the UAE is with China with some speculating that new laws might be passed during Biden’s term determining new conditions placed on U.S. arms sales to allies in the region.

What this decision represents is that Biden is seeking a completely new relationship with Arab countries, which is deeper than before and not based entirely on supporting the U.S. arms industry. It signals that America is back and Biden is seeking to roll back the years when the U.S. stood back and let others fill the gap and extend their hegemony. The Saudis and the Emiratis moved quite quickly since the Obama 2011 “red line” moment which was seen as a starter’s pistol in the region for them both to extend their regional influence. But this move by Biden is a clear indicator that these golden days are to be replaced with a new doctrine which allows these countries their indulgences, only if they play by Washington’s rules. It places of course, new pressure on the normalisation of relations with Israel as the initial deal which Mike Pompeo unveiled in November of last year specifically tied the sales to the Abraham Accords. Biden’s move shows that the premise of the sale – to apparently strengthen the UAE’s might against Iran – is folly, as UAE is not an enemy of the Iranians. And secondly, that he is uncomfortable with the balance of power in the region being tilted towards Abu Dhabi away from Israel. His audacious move has shown that Abraham Accords 2.0 is what is on the agenda now and the sooner the Saudis and the Emirates get their heads around that, the better.