Wind of change in the Middle East. The new scenario awaiting Joe Biden

Ghazal Poorhasan and Alessandro Tomat

The 46th president of United States Joe Biden will soon start his first term after weeks of turmoil and controversial events in the country. Donald Trump’s presidency has brought many changes, both intentionally and unintentionally, not only in the domestic scenario but also on an international level. In this sense the Middle East can be considered as one of the most affected by changes, and surely the region that Vice President Biden was familiar with back until 2016 is now a very different one. Differences that are considerable even for the nonstop-changing Middle East. The withdrawal from the Iran Deal, the Aramco attacks, the assassination of the commander of the Qods force in Iraq, the Abraham Accords, the supplying UAE with the F-35 jet fighter and finally the return of Qatar to the GCC after a long break-up are only the main headlines of what took place in the 4 years of the presidency of Donald Trump.

In the last four years the Trump administration made clear that US would not be involved in the Middle Eastern conflicts, at least at its own direct cost. The fact that US is now an oil producer reduced the primary importance of the region as an energy hub, turning it instead into a growing market for military sales. If in the Obama administration the Iran Nuclear deal was supposed to bring stability to the Middle East, now it’s the Abraham accords that unite the regional countries together against the threats to their national security. The Aramco attacks, not followed by retaliation from the Saudi Arabian defense system (despite all the heavy purchases in this sense) also came with another surprise, which was the lack of reaction from United States in support of its old ally, an illustration of the changes in US policies. Instead, efforts of the US administration to build diplomatic relations between Israel and GCC members, followed by other Arab Sunni states, is in line with the reduction of reliance of Israel and Arab states on US in countering their threats, mainly posed by Iran, through cooperation in security and of course with weapons sold by United States.

The assassination of Qasem Soleimani in early 2020, as a key figure in the proxy policies of Iran in the Middle East, also made a shift in Iranian policies at least for the period of time until his successor rebuild what was lost with his death, since Iran was benefiting not only from his personal command but also from his personal connections in the region. An Iran still cornered by heavy sanctions, the alliance of Arabs and Israel, and a downsized Hezabollah in the Lebanese political scenario after the Beirut explosion, along with the loss of two main figures in its defence program and proxy activities (nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and Qasem Soleimani), is very much more keen to renegotiate with United States than before. However the alliance of countries that see Islamic Republic of Iran as a common threat against their national security, and which are also long term allies of United States, would make the path to achieve a new agreement more challenging than before. This more cornered Iran will predictably be increasing its proxy activities, which will make the region even more unstable.

The Middle East, already with its plenty of failed and fragile states and its ambitious traditional players like Turkey, Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia along with new but bold actors like United Arab Emirates and Qatar, will be the stage of more chaos than it is now.
Ending the “Forever Wars” in the Middle East will not be done simply by reducing the number of American soldiers in the Middle East and replacing the boots on the ground by selling more weapons to the allies. Instead this approach will increase the underlying tensions among the foes and competitors in the region. And in such a scenario, United States would be forced to either refocus its attention on the region or to leave its place in favor of the Russian and Chinese influence.

(You can read the last article by Ghazal Poorhasan here)


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