Geopolitical conditions in the region might not change much during the tenures of the recently elected rulers.
According to the mainstream religions, Middle East is the region where the maximum number of prophets were sent by the God Almighty. Palestine specifically is known as the land of prophets. Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike believe that the Prophet Ibrahim was born there. This region has remained essential for global peace for centuries. Those who rule there, live there, and those who have stakes there remain focused on the global political climate as this region can affect it almost every time. In this regard, the recent elections in Israel and Iran and as well as in the United States have raised a few key questions. One of such queries is, ‘What will a Middle East look like with three newcomers?’ Two powerful ones in the region and a mighty one abroad, but influential in the Middle East. To a great account that might need Ph.D. programs on the asked question but a little attempt to evaluate it can save that time and money.
Starting with Biden; it was 20th January this year when the 46th President of the United States of America, Joe Biden sworn in as the president. He is the oldest president of the United States beating Donald Trump in this regard too. He has a political career of over three decades. He has served as the vice president of the United States under Barrack Obama. He is famously complimented as ‘the man who knows most of the key policymakers of the world by their first names.’ What else an American voter wants? Well, that can better be answered by the hooligans who stormed Capitol Hill just two weeks before Biden’s oath-taking ceremony.
Though Biden’s Middle East Plan has already been discussed in quite detail in one of my previous articles but Naftali Bennet’s and now Ebrahim Raisi’s elections have created new dimensions. Also, Biden has not somewhat stuck to his promises so far. For instance, neither he is back in the JCPOA nor took any action against Israel’s atrocities against Palestinians so far. Somehow the Arab-Israeli romance that began during Trump’s tenure (2016–20) still seems to continue in different shapes. Moreover, Biden was an outspoken senator who spoke on the matters of the Kosovo conflict and the Iraq war. Also, suggested the partition of Iraq for a peaceful Iraq.
Coming to newcomer number 2, Naftali Bennett; he has never remained pro-human rights on a larger scale as Biden has. For instance, like the far-right Jews, he holds the opinion that Palestine is the Promised Land and Jewish return is mentioned in the Bible, and that makes him not less any far-rightist. He has served as the minister of defense as well as education during the tenure of Netanyahu. The main boost of his political career was the annexation of territory that Israel captured in the 1967 war.
Bennet is also known to be a modern orthodox religious Jew. His policy during Netanyahu’s tenure and the last months of the Trump administration could clearly be perceived by the statement of his as defense chief “the building momentum in the country must not be stopped, even for a second”. The annexation plan was eventually abandoned when Israel formalized ties with UAE whereas analysts see a little chance of resurrection of the plan in Biden’s administration. Also, Palestinians are likely to see Bennett’s elevation as a blow to hopes of negotiating peace. Netanyahu’s successor expects to priorities reforms in education, health, and cutting red tape. The leader of the Yamina party will be the prime minister until September 2023.
Newcomer number three is Iran’s newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi. He is an ultra-conservative Iranian, a close believer of Ayatollah Khomeini’s foreign policy. He is believed to follow the same trajectory. Iran has so far pursued a pragmatic policy of openly supporting Shia factions in Afghanistan. Raisi made it clear in his presidential elections that he would implement the JCPOA which the US president Joe Biden has promised to join. Whereas Iran’s interference in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon are intelligence and military-oriented is how the Iranians and Raisi put it.
Now the asked question can be well addressed. Joe Biden is the only one among these three who is not conservative and has emphasized on human rights almost throughout his election campaign. Though as per his promise, he has successfully vaccinated a large chunk of the American population and has also stuck to the Doha Accord, withdrawing almost all the American troops from Afghan soil but challenges still lay ahead. For instance, he is sandwiched between two conservative mighty rulers in the region. Raisi and as well as Bennet consider it their right or duty to follow the course that was left by their predecessors. Netanyahu was a proud occupier of the Palestinian lands and so is Bennett. Hassan Rouhani was a conservative president and so is his successor. But Biden is a more moderate president than his predecessor Donald Trump.
Let’s make things easier for you. Biden does not want to lose any of his allies in the Middle East. More importantly, Israeli-Saudi secretly growing ties are good signs for American influence in the region. Saudi Arabia will never tolerate US’s flexibility towards Iran and so Israel. And US knows it well. Therefore, instead of getting back into the JCPOA Joe Biden is focused on other challenges and his administration has not made any remarkable policy towards Tehran so far. Besides, Abraham Accord has done more harm to Iran as the Arab brethren that was once against Tel Aviv is now getting closer to it, and this has increased the possibilities of Iran’s increasing distances with US and the West. Whereas considering closer ties with Iran can have the following consequences;
· Washington may lose Tel Aviv and face mounting pressure from Israeli lobbies at home
· She might hamper relations with Saudi Arabia and UAE.
· The region may witness more uncertainties on Israeli efforts to isolate Iran
Why would US do that? Exactly!! She does not need to risk her alliances to win Tehran. Bennett like Netanyahu will surely keep attracting Arab states to normalize ties and Muhammad Bin Salman loves to bring clients for Tel Aviv as he dislikes Tehran as much as Israelis do and vice versa. Washington has this idea that if Riyadh is normalizing ties with Doha again and influencing other Arabs states to get closer to Tel Aviv, plus it has mighty influence in OIC then why get closer to Tehran on Saudi and Israeli costs. And it is a right approach to a great account.
Then what choices do Iran have? Well, Iran cannot be taken for granted as she dominates the region more than Israel, Suadi Arabia, and the USA collectively. Houthi rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, Bashaar al Assad in Syria, and a couple of leading political parties in Iraq are under heavy Iranian influence. And Iran knows well how to play a dirty hand in these states to counter the rival states that are present in the region. Moreover, China and Russia are getting closer to Tehran with every passing day. In the larger picture, it is Washington, Moscow, and Beijing who steal the show. And Tehran has also joined the mega show now. In a nutshell, Washington is somehow compelled to take some hard decisions to avoid American atrocities abroad and to not lose friends too. But a fact that needs another article-length discussion is that no matter who becomes the president of the Islamic Republic, the supreme leader of the state, Ali Khomein’ei is the one who has the final say. And who does not know that he is a conservative leader and does not favor reformist presidential candidates a lot.
To conclude, it seems little more than difficult for the United States to get back into the JCPOA. Leave alone the normal ties with Iran. Secondly, Bennett and Raisi will keep hitting each other’s policies orally and their soldiers on the ground in the region. Thirdly, other key players like Saudi Arabia and allies will counter Iran on different platforms diplomatically and as well as militarily in the region. Lastly, Biden like every president of the United States since World War II will have to make some tough decisions throughout his tenure. Whereas for the next few years the geopolitical conditions in the Middle East will remain quite the same. More importantly, because Raisi and Bennett will not miss any chance to discourage each other no matter what.
Co-authored by Samra Hamid.