Joe Biden is now officially the President of the United States of America. While nation leaders of Europe are quite content with Biden’s victory, the same can’t be said about leaders of the Middle East. For them, Biden’s presidency might be a new opportunity or a hindrance. Countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iran are watching closely what Biden will do now.
Unlike Donald Trump, Joe Biden was active in international politics for quite some time. He was the vice president during Obama’s tenure as president. So many experts believe that his policy regarding the geopolitics of the Middle East will be quite similar to Obama’s. Yet there are some uncertainties.
US involvement in regional conflicts:
If there’s one thing that Biden and Trump agree on is that US involvement in the Middle Eastern conflicts should be at a bare minimum. Trump was quite adamant in his desire to bring US soldiers back home and not to get too involved in the conflicts of the Middle East. Like Trump, Biden has pledged to maintain only a small military presence in northeast Syria and continue sanctions on the government of President Bashar al-Assad. (Falk, 2020)
Biden also wishes to bring back troops from Afghanistan. By the time he takes over in January, there will be just 2,500 US service personnel left in Afghanistan. However, Afghan policymakers wish for a continuous presence of US troops in their country. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani tweeted that he expects bilateral ties to ‘deepen’ under Biden’s presidency before the official result of the US election was declared. For the protection of human rights and gender values, Biden will likely allow a portion of US troops to stay in Afghanistan to assist their allies in that country, (Tabrizi, 2020)
Stance on Israel and Palestine:
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice president-elect Kamala Harris, both publicly expressed their support for the state of Israel previously. But, Trump’s departure is still a loss for Israel as he was quite vocal about his support for the Jewish state. During Trump’s administration, the US embassy was moved to Jerusalem from Tel-Aviv which caused much uproar among the Muslim communities, especially in Palestine.
Based on a tweet from a senior Biden campaign official, the President-elect has no desire to move the embassy back to Tel Aviv and also will not reverse Trump’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights either. That’s why many experts believe that Biden’s presidency will not bring much change into the US-Israel relationship. Biden even applauded the new UAE-Israel deal and called it a “historic breakthrough”. (Falk, 2020)Unlike Trump, however, Biden doesn’t want to completely alienate the Palestinians. He wishes to move away from Trump’s pro-annexation stand and approach diplomatically to the Israel-Palestine issue.
Relationship with Iran and Saudi Arabia:
The biggest change that Biden’s presidency can bring for the Middle East is in the bilateral relationship between USA-Saudi and USA-Iran. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are in a contentious position in the Middle East. Therefore pleasing one means displeasing the other.
Trump made a clear choice on this and supported Saudi Arabia despite its several cases of human rights violations. Trump administration also withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, in 2018. Trump even wanted to coerce Iran into renegotiating the deal entirely.
Joe Biden considers Trump’s approach towards Iran as a “dangerous failure”. (Falk, 2020)He has repeatedly shown support for the JCPOA deal which was administered during Obama’s tenure when Biden was US vice president. So it is likely that Biden will retake the same route and renew the JCPOA deal with Iran, which both Israel and especially Saudi Arabia won’t like.
Trump administration overlooked several violations of human rights from Saudi Arabia, one of which is the notorious killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. On the second anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder, Joe Biden announced that he would no longer leave American values “at the cloakroom to sell weapons or buy oil”. Biden even hinted that he would no longer support Saudi Arabia in its conflict with Yemen. (Khan, 2020) While it can U.S. strengthen its relationship with Iran, it will further alienate Riyadh as well.
“Biden and his foreign policy team see the world completely differently than Trump does,” said Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “They want to return to the systematic, institutionalized, alliance-centered, and rules-based international order the U.S. carefully built since the end of World War II.” (Turak, 2020) Only time can tell for which countries will it be beneficial. .
Falk, T. (2020, 11 9). Will Joe Biden alter US policy in the Middle East? Retrieved from Aljazeera: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/11/9/biden-expected-to-alter-the-regions-status-quo-analysis
Khan, M. (2020, 10 28). Will Joe Biden be better for the Middle East than Donald Trump? Retrieved from Daily Sabah: https://www.dailysabah.com/opinion/op-ed/will-joe-biden-be-better-for-the-middle-east-than-donald-trump
Tabrizi, D. A. (2020, 11 13). The Impact of a Biden Presidency on the Middle East and North Africa. Retrieved from rusi.org: https://rusi.org/commentary/impact-biden-presidency-middle-east-and-north-africa
Turak, N. (2020, 11 11). Saudis worry, Iran and Palestinians hope: What a Biden presidency could mean for the Middle East. Retrieved from CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/11/what-a-biden-presidency-could-mean-for-the-middle-east-.html