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Israeli officials cautioned Biden against heavy criticism of Egypt, Saudi Arabia

Jerusalem fears that singling out Sissi and MBS on human rights violations risks sending their countries into arms of Iran, China and Russia

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, right, meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Cairo, Egypt, on March 4, 2018. (Mohammed Samaha/Egypt's state news agency, MENA via AP/File)
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, right, meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Cairo, Egypt, on March 4, 2018. (Mohammed Samaha/Egypt's state news agency, MENA via AP/File)

NEW YORK — Israeli officials have cautioned their counterparts in the Biden administration against being overly critical of the Saudi and Egyptian governments, due to concerns that that such criticism might lead Riyadh and Cairo to turn to countries like Iran, China and Russia for support, a source familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

Biden entered office vowing to place a premium on human rights in the crafting of his foreign policy, warning that countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt would need to reform if they wanted to maintain their longstanding relationships with the US.

But that approach has worried Jerusalem, which believes it could alienate Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, leading them to look elsewhere for support and alliances — namely from Iran, but also from US adversaries China and Russia. Those concerns have been passed along to administration officials on multiple occasions, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

However, the matter was not raised during the meeting between Biden and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last week, The Times of Israel has learned.

The source expressed satisfaction that while the Biden administration has maintained its rhetoric in favor of upholding human rights abroad, it has “thus far avoided upending US relations with [Cairo and Riyadh] entirely.”

Israel views Saudi Arabia and Egypt as part of a more moderate axis of Arab countries in the region with which it seeks to cooperate against Iran, and has been reported in the past to lobby the US in support of economic aid for both countries.

Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979, ending decades of conflict and establishing full diplomatic relations. In recent years, the two countries have cooperated closely on security, mostly surrounding the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has drawn closer to Israel amid both countries’ efforts to thwart Iran’s regional aspirations; however, it has so far resisted establishing diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

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