REPORTS from the White House assert that President Joe Biden has suffered only minor effects from his recent infection with Covid-19. However, as his recent, four-day trip to the Middle East proved, the hypocrisy and cynicism of his geopolitics is a much more serious and deep-rooted problem.

If his visits to Israel and Saudi Arabia proved anything it is that – despite the hopes invested in him when he replaced Donald Trump as president – Biden’s ­Middle East policy is one of business as ­usual. ­Speaking alongside the ­newly-installed prime ­minister of Israel Yair Lapid in Jerusalem, the president spoke of his “deep love and respect” for Israel.

The US president emphasised his ­country’s “iron-clad commitment to ­Israel’s security”. No such commitment was made to the security of the long-suffering ­Palestinian people, of course (and, in any case, as the Palestinians know to their cost, any such promise would have been about as bankable as a solemn oath from the lips of Boris Johnson).

Needless to say, Biden did not ­jeopardise the US-Israel love-in by mentioning the killing by the Israeli army of the Al ­Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh (a ­Palestinian-American who held US ­citizenship).

The National: Barack Obama

Instead, Biden boasted of the “record-setting agreement” that he – as then vice-president of the US – and President Barack Obama (above) made to grant Israel $38 billion in military assistance over 10 years. Those who harbour the fond notion that the US Democratic Party is somehow a progressive political force should note that Biden’s expression of unwavering support for the State of Israel is of a part with the party’s history of imperialistic foreign policy.

From the ludicrously lionised John F Kennedy’s warmongering in Vietnam and the Cuban Missile Crisis, to the ­killing of up to 807 people in Obama’s drone wars in ­countries as diverse as Pakistan, ­Somalia and Yemen (source: The Bureau of ­Investigative Journalism), the ­Democrats have always been as committed to the US’s expansionist militarism as has the ­Republican Party.

At the Jerusalem press conference, Biden was happy to endorse the “eloquent ­statement” by the Israeli Prime Minister. Lapid spoke from the long-established playbook of the Israeli political establishment.

Like his political forebears, Lapid made the cynical assertion that Israel’s ­oppression of the Palestinians is ­justified by the Nazi Holocaust of Europe’s Jews. “In order to protect freedom, sometimes force must be used,” he said, in ­reference to the continued sabre-rattling of Israel and the US over Iran’s nuclear ­enrichment programme.

Lapid referred to Israel’s enemies as “people who do not play by the rules”. This from the leader of a state that breaches international law on a daily basis through its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights, and its illegal settlements on Palestinian land.

A state that, furthermore, refuses to ­acknowledge its arsenal of 90 nuclear ­warheads, situated in the Negev desert and trained on cities across Iran and the Arab world. Indeed, not only does Israel refuse to admit that it has such weapons, it has never allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its ­nuclear facility at Dimona.

We only know about the nature and scale of Israel’s nuclear weapons ­programme thanks to the brave, ­Jewish ­Israeli whistleblower (and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience) ­Mordechai Vanunu. He spent 18 years in prison (11 of them in solitary ­confinement) after being drugged and kidnapped from Italy by the Israeli secret service Mossad in 1986.

Lapid equated Hamas’s occasional, largely ineffective military action against Israel with the Al Qaeda attacks on the US on September 11. This rhetoric – in which Israel is cast as the victim of ­Palestinian “terrorism”, rather than a highly-militarised Goliath towering over the Palestinian David – is entirely at odds with the assessment by Amnesty International, Nelson Mandela and the late ­Bishop Desmond Tutu (among many other campaigners for human rights) that Israel is an apartheid state.

Between 2008 and 2021, 5973 ­Palestinians died at the hands of forces of the Israeli state or armed settlers in the Occupied Territories (source: United ­Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). Of those, 1688 were children.

By comparison, the death toll of ­Israelis killed by Palestinian armed groups and ­civilians stands at 274, including 124 members of the Israeli armed forces, 76 settlers and 21 children.

By far the highest death toll (some 5246 people) has been among ­Palestinian ­people trapped by Israel in the Gaza Strip, the world’s biggest open prison. Gaza has been subject to repeated Israeli bombardment, most notoriously during former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cynically misnamed Operation Protective Edge in 2014, which took the lives of more than 2300 Palestinians.

Declaring Israel and the US to be part of the “free world”, Lapid praised Biden’s support for “an alliance of moderate countries that believes in peace” in the Middle East. The primary Arab state in that alliance is, he said, Saudi Arabia.

The cynicism of that statement is truly breathtaking. Indeed, it was equalled only by Biden’s hypocrisy when he departed Jerusalem for the Saudi city of Jeddah, where he famously fist-bumped Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

The National: Jamal Khashoggi

As both Biden and Lapid know very well, there is nothing “peaceful” about a Saudi regime that rains down terror on the beleaguered people of Yemen on a ­daily basis. Nor can MBS, who is ­believed to be the chief orchestrator of the ­gruesome murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (above), be defined as in any way a “moderate”.

A critic of the Saudi regime, Khashoggi (who worked for The Washington Post, among other news outlets) was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. His body was then dismembered using a meat cutting machine.

Neither Turkish prosecutors nor the authors of an intelligence report for the US Government are in any doubt that Khashoggi’s killing was the work of the Saudi regime in Riyadh. During the 2019 campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination – in which Biden was up against resurgent socialist candidate Bernie Sanders – Biden sought to ­establish his progressive credentials by promising to ostracise Saudi Arabia.

Biden would, he told the American people, “make [the Saudi regime] pay the price” for Khashoggi’s murder, “and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are”. However, there’s many a slip ­betwixt a presidential hustings and the petrol pump.

The National: Stephen Colbert to host Emmy Awards

US television host Stephen Colbert (above) got to the heart of the matter when he said that “the crown prince is, infamously – and I’m putting it delicately here – a ­murderer. But, on the other hand, gas is five bucks a gallon”. With the cost of living crisis threatening to contribute to a poor ­showing for the Democrats in the midterm elections in November, Biden is trying to persuade the Saudis to increase oil production.

In truth, it was Biden’s spasm of conscience back in 2019, rather than his meeting with MBS, that was the aberration. US administrations of both parties have long cultivated the alliance between Washington and Riyadh.

The appalling human rights record of the Saudi regime – a brutal, misogynistic theocracy founded on the fundamentalist interpretation of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism – has carried far less weight with the US than has its role as a major oil producer. Equally, human rights have come a poor second to Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical role as an opponent of the Shia Muslim regime in Iran.

From the continued oppression of the Palestinians by Israel to the heartbreaking, eight-year war in Yemen (where the Saudis are in conflict with Iranian-backed Houthi forces), Biden’s visit to the Middle East signalled no change whatsoever. Like the Obama administration in which he served as vice-president, the Biden presidency has shattered the hopes of ­millions that it might, finally, bring about an ethical foreign policy in Washington DC.