Saudi Arabia is determined to establish a military agreement with the United States, requiring U.S. defense in the event of an attack, in exchange for establishing diplomatic ties with Israel. This deal, discussed between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and President Joe Biden in 2022, may not be as robust as the initially desired NATO-style defense guarantees. Instead, it could resemble agreements the U.S. has with Asian countries or the arrangement with Bahrain, where the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet is stationed. Such an agreement might not need approval from the U.S. Congress.
To sweeten the deal, the U.S. might grant Saudi Arabia the status of a Major Non-NATO Ally, a designation already given to Israel. However, Saudi Arabia insists on binding assurances of U.S. protection in the event of an attack, similar to the missile strikes it faced in 2019. This potential pact signifies a significant shift in Middle East dynamics, bringing together traditional adversaries, Saudi Arabia and Israel, and strengthening ties between Riyadh and Washington, especially in response to China’s growing influence in the region. For President Biden, this pact could be a significant diplomatic achievement ahead of the 2024 U.S. election.
In this agreement, Palestinians might experience some easing of Israeli restrictions, but their aspirations for statehood would not be the central focus. The normalization would primarily occur between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and if the Palestinians oppose it, Saudi Arabia intends to proceed with the deal. While Saudi Arabia supports a peace plan for the Palestinians, this time, it seeks benefits for itself, not just for the Palestinians.
The specific details of the defense pact are still being worked out, but it is expected to be a mutual defense understanding, somewhat akin to the U.S. relationship with Israel. It might involve military support without a clear commitment to deploy U.S. troops, similar to agreements with Japan and other Asian allies. Riyadh is willing to compromise on some demands, including its plans for civilian nuclear technology, to secure the deal. The kingdom is open to signing agreements establishing frameworks for peaceful nuclear cooperation, which it had previously resisted. Ultimately, while the exact nature of the pact is yet to be finalized, Saudi Arabia is firm in its insistence on U.S. commitment to protect its territory in the face of an attack.