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Analysts: Calls for disruption to US-Saudi ties a ‘two-sided disaster’

Dalia Aqidi

Published: Updated:

As the United States anticipate the results of its midterm elections, Middle East observers and analysts are debating whether a swing in either congress or senate would spell a disruption to the ongoing historic relations between Washington and Riyadh, with some agreeing that it would be a “two-sided” disaster should ties be shaken.

Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute Hussein Ibish told Al Arabiya English that the US media outlets are constantly looking for ways to get back at the Trump Administration prior to the US midterm elections, where citizens will vote for 435 seats of House of Representatives and 35 seats in the US senate.

“In the Trump era, Saudi Arabia is turning into partisan issues where it has been seen as a kind of a Republican thing. It would be very dangerous if the administration's grip on power is tenuous and the pendulum can easily and dramatically swing to the Democrats,” he said.

Ibish added that Trump detractors would always be looking to find different ways to attack Trump’s White House. “Saudi Arabia had fallen into a certain trap by allowing itself to entirely become in the American conversation, associated with Trump”.

The US official narrative stayed within the line of "Saudi was one of the US major allies" despite the calls to cut ties with the kingdom which Ibish described as a "two-sided disaster”.

“Saudi Arabia and the United States are stuck together. Both of them have no choice but to be partners with each other,” he said.

US regional partner

The US seeks dominant power in the Gulf Region in particular, and the Middle East in general, which means it needs a local partner, according to Ibish who highlighted the fact that Saudi Arabia was the only large and strong country in the region to counter Iran.

"Iran is a destabilizing power that backs all these non-state actors and terrorist groups that destabilizes its neighbors,” he stressed.

On the other hand, the Saudis need an external patron to help them preserve their interests and guarantee their security, according to Ibish who added that neither Russia nor China – who maintain good relations with Iran – could fill that role.

In a recent panel discussion in Washington DC, Karen Young, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AIE), stressed that it was not the right time for the US Administration to sabotage or make drastic changes to its relations with Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia had made efforts to open up to the world by inviting people and tourists to the country and trying to attract investors,” Young said, pointing out that Saudi Arabia was facing tremendous economic and social transformations which is one of the most difficult tasks headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

US midterm elections

Ibish, the Arab Gulf States Institute’s senior scholar, went further in emphasizing that the US midterm elections would have no impact on the US-Saudi relations due to the fact that voters do not vote based on foreign policy unless the country was at war. But he did contend that the relationship could face disruptions should the Democrats gain majority in either houses.

“The midterms might affect the current US-Saudi crisis if the Democrats win back the House and/or the Senate. Democrats could use the current US-Saudi crisis, along with complaints about Yemen, and a few other things to justify strategic disruptions to the relationship in order to give President Trump a headache and make his life miserable,” he warned.

Ibish also accused Qatar of helping Turkey turn up the heat on Saudi Arabia through Al Jazeera, the Middle East Eye, and Muslim Brotherhood-supported networks, while Riyadh had a few defenders in Washington which was a “big Saudi mistake” as he described it.

“Saudis talk with the White House, department of defense, and senior congressional members which is not enough. They need a ground game to get into the trenches by continuously hosting events, reaching out to people, trying to affect the conversation, and talking to every writer for every website,” Ibish noted.

He continued as saying; "The conversation in Washington is ultimately shaped by engaging with others in every level,” stressing that Riyadh could increase its influence in DC by taking these important steps.