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Israel & Arab states stay "out of it". Cowardly or smart?

NATO states poked the crazy bear for the past decade; became completely dependent on that nut job for their energy and now want others to stick their head in the buzzsaw? Why should the Middle East? Besides Putin's reprehensible actions have increased the price of their oil.

U.S. Diplomatic Push for Ukraine Falters in a Middle East Influenced by Russia

Washington’s regional partners have so far rebuffed U.S. calls to come out against Moscow

The annual IEA-IEF-OPEC Symposium on Energy Outlooks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in February.

By David S. Cloud in Tel Aviv, Benoit Faucon

Updated March 2, 2022 6:16 am ET

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The Biden administration is pushing its closest Middle East partners to back Ukraine in its deepening war with Russia and for help alleviating the economic fallout—without much to show for it.

From the Persian Gulf’s oil-rich monarchies to Israel, U.S. allies and partners are staying neutral or tempering their criticism of Moscow in a revealing sign of Russia’s growing influence in the region.

Saudi Arabia, the de facto OPEC leader, has rebuffed U.S. requests to pump more oil to help tame surging crude prices, which topped $100 a barrel amid concerns over supply after Russia invaded Ukraine. The United Arab Emirates, which hosts U.S. troops, ignored U.S. lobbying and abstained from a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the Russian invasion.

Even Israel, the U.S.’s closest ally in the region, has refused a Ukrainian request for weapons and other military equipment, such as helmets and protective vests, according to Ukraine’s ambassador, Yevgen Korniychuk. Israel fears that choosing sides too openly against Moscow could prompt Russian forces in Syria to respond by interfering with its long-running air campaign against Iranian-backed militias there, Israeli officials said.

A senior U.S. official said the diplomatic response in the region has been more cautious than Washington would have preferred. But there is far more agreement than is visible publicly on steps to calm energy markets and avoid economic shocks if Russian President Vladimir Putin prolongs the conflict, the official said.

“We are focused on ensuring we are putting maximum pressure on Russia and Putin, while mitigating the risk to the U.S. and the global economy,” the official said, adding that high-level talks with the Saudis and others are aimed at making “sure we are coordinated and understand each other’s actions.”

While Saudi Arabia has pushed back against previous U.S. requests for additional oil supplies, officials at the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries say it isn’t expected to counter a move Tuesday by International Energy Agency members to release 60 million barrels of oil from their emergency stockpiles in an attempt to tame prices. Meanwhile, Qatar, recently designated by the U.S. a non-NATO major ally—a title not given to the Saudis or Emiratis—has expressed openness to divert some gas shipments from Asia to Europe to help fill potential disruptions in Russian natural-gas supply, say people familiar with the talks between U.S. and Qatari officials.

Nonetheless, the Ukraine invasion has highlighted how frayed the oil-for-security bargain between the U.S. and its Arab partners has become, with doubts about American staying power in the region. The U.S.’s abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer and its long-term foreign-policy goal of pivoting toward China has pushed many of its regional partners to seek out new security and economic ties.

Russia in recent years stepped into that gap. Moscow has joined with key Middle East oil producers to better manage supply in a deal that has helped fuel a crude price rally. It has established partnerships with Saudi Arabia’s main sovereign fund and oil company. Russia has offered alternatives to U.S. arms to Persian Gulf nations that are under threat from their neighbors, while intervening on the side of strongmen in the Syrian and Libyan civil wars.

“Putin has managed to create leverage with leaders across the Middle East that, despite spending billions, the U.S. has not been able to match,” says Karen Young, a senior fellow at The Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank. “I think it’s a real shock to the U.S.”

Saudi Arabia doesn’t want to jeopardize a deal between the oil cartel it leads, OPEC and Russia, an alliance called OPEC+, officials in Riyadh said. That pact, which allows for production increases of 400,000 barrels a day each month, has done little to stem the rise in oil prices and the Saudis have pumped less than their share, according to the IEA.


What role do Middle Eastern countries play in the Russia-Ukraine conflict? Join the conversation below.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s day-to-day ruler, told French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday that Riyadh remains committed to continue an agreement with Moscow on oil-production levels, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

“Saudi Arabia does not see any need to take an action and jeopardize this alliance,” said a senior Saudi official.

Russia’s Ukraine Invasion Has Stocks in Turmoil but Oil Prices Rising


Russia’s Ukraine Invasion Has Stocks in Turmoil but Oil Prices Rising

Russia’s Ukraine Invasion Has Stocks in Turmoil but Oil Prices Rising

Play video: Russia’s Ukraine Invasion Has Stocks in Turmoil but Oil Prices Rising

Conflicts like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have historically sent stock prices lower and boosted the value of certain commodities. WSJ’s Dion Rabouin explains the investor psychology that's moving markets. Photo: Justin Lane/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

U.S. efforts to sway Riyadh have been complicated by the fraught relations between President Biden and Prince Mohammed, known as MBS, who has been shunned by the U.S. president for his role in the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

“The fact that Biden refuses to acknowledge MBS as the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia makes the decision easier for MBS to take the side of Putin, who, despite some hiccups, has been closer to him,” said a Saudi adviser.

The Biden administration has been working to rebuild relations with Saudis, sending high level delegations to Riyadh and arranging a Feb. 24 call between Mr. Biden and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, the U.S. official said.

The administration’s relations with the U.A.E. have seemed even frostier, highlighted by the Emirati abstention from a U.N. Security Council vote condemning Moscow’s invasion, despite direct appeals from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“We believe that alignment and positioning will only lead to more violence,” Anwar Gargash, a U.A.E. presidential adviser in a tweet on Sunday. “In the Ukrainian crisis, our priorities are to encourage all parties to adopt diplomacy and negotiate to find a political settlement that ends this crisis.”

Abu Dhabi’s decision to not back the resolution also appeared linked to its effort to win Moscow’s backing for a separate U.N. resolution condemning missile and drone attacks against the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia by Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in black, and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in 2019.


That resolution was approved by the Security Council on Monday, with Russian support. “The strong perception among diplomats was that there was a quid pro quo,” said Peter Salisbury, a senior Yemen analyst at the International Crisis Group.

The U.A.E. foreign ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

In another sign of the U.A.E distancing itself from Washington, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, the country’s de facto ruler, spoke by phone Tuesday with Mr. Putin about “bilateral relations,” the energy market and “developments in Ukraine,” according to the U.A.E. state news agency.

Also on Tuesday, Ukraine’s embassy said in a Facebook post that the U.A.E. had suspended visa-free travel for Ukrainian tourists to the Middle East trade and tourism hub. Ukrainian citizens, who had been eligible to stay in the U.A.E. for a month, must now apply for a visa to visit the country.

As Russian forces were closing in on Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv, Sheikh Mohammed avoided any public criticism of Moscow, emphasizing to Mr. Putin “the need for a peaceful solution to the crisis," the news agency said.

The Ukrainian request for weapons from Israel includes systems that would help Ukraine defend itself against Russian missiles, but not for Israel’s Iron Dome system, which is designed to intercept shorter range rockets and missiles, said Mr. Korniychuk, the Ukraine ambassador to Israel. “We are in huge need of self-defense weapons,” he said at a Tuesday press conference. “I do hope that Israel will consider positively all of our requests.”

“Israel has taken a measured and responsible approach, which allows us not only to protect our interests, but also to be useful…one of the few that can communicate directly with both parties,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Tuesday.

The longer the war continues, the more pressure U.S. partners and allies in the region are likely to face to align more closely with Washington. Though Russia has increased ties to the region, Moscow doesn’t offer the same long-term military support to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, said Ms. Young at the Middle East Institute.

“Russia doesn’t have the capacity to play that role, not now or in the future,” she said.

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