Biden's strategy for the Middle East

Joe Biden, the US President

Ahmad Abdul-Rahman looks at Biden's strategy for the Middle East and its geopolitical implications

The Biden administration's new strategy in the Middle East is forcing regional powers to reassess their geostrategic interests and act in a way that may put an end to many of the conflicts that have plagued the region.

Correcting the mistake

When Joe Biden announced his candidacy for the US presidency, he made clear that if elected, he would chart a new course in addressing the problems sweeping the Middle East and restore some normality in a region mired in turmoil and bloodshed. Consequently, Biden vowed to revive and improve the Iran deal, end the war in Yemen, support the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and restart the US support for the Kurds in Syria while reining in the Turkish President Erdogan's adventures. Every country in the Middle East understands that America's new approach cannot be ignored because of its continued dependence on the United States in one form or another. Each also realises that the regional geopolitical map has changed and they must now re-evaluate their positions.

Although Biden is intensifying his focus on the Asia-Pacific region, the United States' geostrategic interest and commitment to its allies in the Middle East remains. Even though Biden's strategy is fundamentally different from his predecessor, Donald Trump, he is creating new realities for the affected countries.

Back to the Iran deal

Biden's decision to return to the Iran deal, which Israel and Saudi Arabia so strongly opposed, is now forcing both countries to reevaluate their positions. Israel and Saudi Arabia know that a new agreement based on the original deal with some improvements is imminent. They also realise that Trump's erroneous withdrawal only pushed Iran to build new advanced centrifuges, allowing it to enrich more and higher quality uranium, bringing it closer to building a nuclear weapon.

For Israel and Saudi Arabia, the only viable option is to work with the United States to ensure the new deal is monitored and the previous one is improved. Moreover, the probable normalisation of bilateral relations between Washington and Tehran will ultimately provide the best option to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons in the long term.

Ending the war in Yemen

Biden's call to end the devastating war in Yemen had no response in Riyadh or Tehran. His decision to suspend arms shipments to Saudi Arabia sent a clear message to the kingdom that the war must end. Iran also realises that there is not much left to gain from the continuation of the war.

In fact, Saudi Arabia and Iran have long concluded that their proxy war in Yemen is unwinnable and are looking for a face-saving exit. The power-sharing government between the Houthis and the legitimate authority in Sana'a, the Sunnis, has Biden's support and appears to be gaining momentum in the current Saudi-Iranian discussions, which are likely to provide a lasting solution.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Biden's position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been very consistent since he was a senator because he believes that a two-state solution remains the only viable option. Biden moved to resume financial aid to the Palestinians that Trump had suspended, and asked Israel to refrain from further annexing any Palestinian land and to limit the expansion of existing Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Given Israel's failure to form a stable coalition government after four elections in two years combined with political chaos among the Palestinians, it is unlikely that they will be able to resume peace negotiations in earnest.

While the Biden administration has made clear to both sides that significant concessions are a prerequisite for a deal, the United States rightly focuses on confidence-building measures first.

Stop Erdogan's foreign adventures

Finally, President Biden's decision to restore America's support to the Syrian Kurds who fought alongside American forces to oust ISIS and suffered thousands of casualties, but who were abandoned by Trump, is strategically necessary to restore America's influence in Syria, particularly in shaping the result of the civil war in Syria. Providing political and financial support to the Kurds is a warning to Erdogan to stop his continuous attack on them in the name of fighting terrorism.

Moreover, Erdogan's courtship of Russia's Putin, the West's number one adversary, his violation of US sanctions against Iran and his interfering in internal affairs throughout the Middle East, the Balkans, southern Europe, and Africa have begun to diminish. Biden's decision to recognise the Armenian genocide reinforced his message to Erdogan that enough is enough and that the United States no longer considers Turkey a strategic a
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Tuesday, 03 August 2021