Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Managing Editor Frederick Deknatel highlights a major unfolding story in the Middle East, while curating some of the best news and analysis from the region. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive Middle East Memo by email every week.
The usual rush by an outgoing administration in Washington to tie up loose ends at the end of its term is, not surprisingly, taking on a different tone with President Donald Trump. In the Middle East, the Trump administration is racing to seal last-minute diplomatic deals and lock in its so-called maximum pressure campaign against Iran, in a scramble that risks stoking new tensions and even starting new wars just as Joe Biden is inaugurated as president. For Trump, that may be precisely the point.
It started with the high-profile push to get Saudi Arabia to follow the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in normalizing ties with Israel, following reports last week that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia for a secret meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also in the kingdom. It was followed by the audacious assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, which “showed the hallmarks of an Israeli clandestine operation,” as The Washington Post reported. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and de facto Middle East envoy—thanks to his close relationships with the Saudi crown prince and other Gulf royals—is headed to the region this week, to apparently try and broker an end to the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar that Trump greenlit early in his term.