Middle East Eye / January 14, 2021
Axios reports that Israel plans to lobby incoming Biden administration against confronting Gulf countries and Egypt over human rights issues and war in Yemen.
Israel plans to lobby the incoming Biden administration to limit criticism of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt over human rights issues and the ongoing war in Yemen, Axios reported, citing Israeli defence officials.
Israel reportedly fears that harsh criticism of the Gulf states’ could affect regional efforts to counter Iranian influence.
Egypt, which has become diplomatically close to Israel in recent years, could also be a target of criticism from the Biden administration over human rights abuses in the country, officials told the news site.
“We were very close to losing Egypt several years ago and our message to the Biden administration will be: ‘Take it slow, dramatic changes took place, don’t come with predispositions and don’t harm relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE,'” a senior Israeli official told Axios.
Cooperation with Gulf countries and Egypt is a key part of Israel’s security strategy in the region, the primary goal of which is countering Iran.
Israeli officials also plan to tell Biden that Israel’s recent normalisation deals with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco should be prioritised over rights concerns, The Times of Israel reported.
The Israeli official claimed the normalisation agreements have helped encourage Saudi Arabia and Egypt to improve human rights in their countries.
While Israel has official relations with Egypt and more recently with the UAE, it has no official ties with Saudi Arabia.
The official warned that if Washington’s relations with Riyadh and Cairo deteriorate, it could lead them to pivot towards Russia and China.
Human rights-focused foreign policy
Biden has said he intends to pursue a foreign policy based on human rights, and has criticised Saudi Arabia for its leading role in the war in Yemen.
“I would make it very clear we were not going to in fact sell more weapons to them… [and] end the sale of material to the Saudis where they’re going in and murdering children,” he said during a presidential debate.
Last July, on the campaign trail, Biden said there would be “no more blank checks for Trump’s ‘favourite dictator'”, referring to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Throughout his term, President Donald Trump kept warm relations with Saudi leaders, and on occasion defended the kingdom over gross human rights violations, including the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Trump administration also showered Riyadh with favourable weapons deals and policies, including the recent designation of the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen as a foreign terrorist organisation (FTO).
Democrats have been calling on Biden to reverse the decision, citing major consequences for food imports and humanitarian access to Yemen, which is facing what the UN has described as the “world’s worst humanitarian disaster”.
The terrorist designation was welcomed by Riyadh and Cairo, but Israel has yet to take a position on Washington’s move.