JERUSALEM — As President Biden visits the Middle East this week, his first such trip as American head of state, he is encountering a region where alliances, priorities and relations with the United States have shifted significantly since his last official trip, six years ago.
When Mr. Biden traveled to Israel in 2016 as vice president, the country had diplomatic ties with just two Arab states, Egypt and Jordan. But now, it is increasingly embedded within the diplomatic ecosystem of the Middle East after several landmark deals brokered by the Trump administration that normalized relations between Israel and three other Arab states: Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.
The American leader and his Israeli hosts are expected to discuss the strengthening of the military coordination system between Israel, its new Arab allies and the U.S. military. Unthinkable during Mr. Biden’s last official visit, the system allows the participating armies to communicate in real time about aerial threats from Iran and its proxies, and has already been used to help bring down several drones, according to Israeli officials.
There have even been hints about the involvement of Saudi Arabia in the military coordination, which currently has no overt relationship with Israel but shares its opposition to Iran.
Historically, Saudi officials have said that they would avoid a formal relationship with Israel until the creation of a Palestinian state. But leading Saudis have become increasingly critical of the Palestinian leadership, and two Saudi commentators expressed support for normalization with Israel in recent days.
The Israeli news media has also reported on back-channel negotiations to increase the number of Israeli planes allowed to fly over the Saudi mainland, and to secure Israel’s blessing to change the role of international peacekeepers on two strategic small islands near Israel’s southern coast that Egypt handed over to Saudi Arabia in 2017.
“There is new closeness between Israel and the Gulf,” said Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington. “The question is: Can the United States try to take all these different bricks and build something new with them?”
Mr. Biden’s talks with the Palestinians promise to be more fraught.
The last time he visited, the latest Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations had recently broken down. Renewed talks are now considered highly unlikely amid dwindling hopes of an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in the near future and diminished American interest in seeking one.
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