File photo: Xinhua
US President Donald Trump departs from Washington for the Middle East on Friday in his first overseas visit since he took office in January.
Embroiled in rolling scandals at home, he can expect a welcome in Saudi Arabia and Israel, which have been lobbying for US support for their policies in the region.
However, experts fear that Trump may add fuel to the conflict-laden region when he wades into the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, ties with Iran, anti-terrorism and wars in Syria and Yemen.
BALANCE AT STAKE
In his first stop, Trump is expected to meet with Saudi officials, as well as more than 50 leaders of Muslim countries during a summit hosted by the kingdom.
"Trump's escalation against Iran complies with Saudi policies that adopt a strict position on Iran and reject the Iranian policies as interference in regional affairs, especially that Iran drives the situations in Yemen and Syria towards more tension," said Sayyid Amin Shalaby, director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.
Saudi Arabia was not satisfied with the policies of Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, toward Iran, and ties between the two countries soured after the US Congress passed a law last year permitting lawsuits holding the kingdom responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
"Trump announced that he will uproot terrorism and he wants to do so by relying on his Arab and Muslim allies in the Middle East region," Sayyid said, adding that Washington expects the Gulf states to share the expenses of an anti-terror war by signing an arms deal worth 100 billion US dollars with Saudi Arabia.
However, experts fear that Trump will escalate tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
"At the summit, Trump looks to me more like an arms dealer who expects to spark more conflicts," said Saeed al-Lawindi, a researcher at Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
They exclude Iran as if it is not a regional power, he said, adding that Iran should play a role in regional affairs.
Moreover, through his presidential campaign Trump vowed to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, which could hinder the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and anger the whole Arab world.
In 1995, the United States passed a law mandating the relocation of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But every US president since then signed a six-month waiver for security concerns. The most recent waiver signed by Barack Obama will expire on June 1.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. While it considers the united city its capital, the annexation has never been recognized by the international community.
FRAGILE PEACE AFTER IS DEFEATED
The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its ensuing polices in the region led to the creation of the Islamic State (IS), which swept over large territories in Iraq and Syria, experts said.
After almost three years of anti-terrorism military operations, Iraq and Syria are expected in the coming months to liberate Mosul and Raqqa, the most important IS strongholds.
The Obama and Trump administrations never announced a plan on what would happen in Iraq and Syria after IS is defeated.
The relations between Moscow and Washington have sparked huge controversies in the United States since Trump was sworn in four months ago.
With the Syrian government supported by Russia and Iran, and the Sunni rebels backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia, the Iraqi government and the Kurds are preparing to claim IS-controlled territories, which may increase tensions in the region and beyond.
Observers said the political arrangement after the defeat of IS is already on the agenda, but is progressing slowly due to deep divisions among the countries involved.
They said if Trump adopts unilateral moves without consent of the above parties on his trip, the peace process could be derailed and could shadow the region's future stability.