On Friday, Joe Biden will become the first U.S. president to travel directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia.
The flight’s scheduled route—from the ancient city of Jerusalem to the coastal metropolis of Jeddah—comes amid profound shifts in the Middle East’s diplomatic and defensive landscape, which increasingly align one-time adversaries in Israel and surrounding Arab countries against common threats posed by Iran. But it also marks a reversal in the Biden administration’s early regional policy, which critics say isolated strategic partners and abandoned Trump-era efforts to foster ties between Israel and its neighbors.
Now, the White House hopes to capitalize on the momentum of Biden’s visit—and the months of behind-the-scenes diplomacy that went into making it happen—to re-center strategic cooperation among the U.S.’s Middle Eastern allies.
One of Biden’s top priorities this week, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Monday, is to “deepen Israel’s integration into the region.” According to recent reporting in several international outlets and by the public admission of American and Israeli officials, the administration’s plans to do so have largely centered on forming an air defense network. In theory, such a pact would encourage Israel and the Arab states—including Saudi Arabia, which hasn’t yet normalized relations with Jerusalem—to work together to counter drone, missile, and rocket attacks from Iran and Iranian-backed groups.