The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) suffer from civil wars, internal upheavals, refugee flows and humanitarian crises. It is one of the least integrated and most conflictual regions in the world and urgently needs new and agreed mechanisms to de-escalate conflicts caused by multiple overlapping drivers of instability inside and outside the region. Furthermore, the worsening crisis of global multilateralism and the multitude of regional and supraregional actors have fragmented international efforts to promote dialogue and deconflicts in the Middle East and even resulted in them being at least rhetorically disadvantaged in relation to multilateralism on a regional agenda the oldest foreign player, the United States.
US Middle East policies and strategies have changed since Barack Obama’s presidency (January 2009 – January 2017). When Obama tried to shift his focus to Asia, the Arab Spring, the Syrian civil war, the rise of the so-called Islamic state in Iraq and the Iranian nuclear program kept the region in focus. He was aware that US withdrawal from Middle Eastern affairs would leave a dangerous vacuum. Indeed, Obama’s stance gave Russia, Iran and Turkey an opportunity to expand their influence through regional representatives such as in Syria and Yemen. This has resulted in a new geopolitical model in the region, where countries act in relation to national power, but outside their political boundaries.
The same is true of Joe Biden’s administration, although his priorities are practical areas of collaboration such as: B. working more closely with European and Asian allies on the China challenge, reforming the world economy and addressing a diminishing role of the US in the Middle East government. The ongoing events in Israel and occupied Palestine, where the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas is militarily supported and supported by Iran; the latter’s atomic problem; and new uncertainties about the future of Afghanistan will keep the region in Biden’s focus. They could even lead Washington to recalibrate its policy of de-prioritization and its “Do No Harm” approach, most likely by asking the Middle East partners to take a more active role in dealing with regional uncertainties and conflicts.
READ: US ‘Biden urges constructive dialogue on human rights in Egypt
The origins of US Middle East deprioritization policy may stem from new regional dynamics, including increasing forces of modernization and moderation. multilateral talks as a continuation of catastrophic civil wars and internal conflicts in Libya, Syria and Yemen; plus the financial and reputational costs of disputes. Any move away from the region, however, requires a careful balancing act by Washington as several important interests remain, particularly those related to Iran and its regional network of representatives.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have been holding talks since January, apparently without US involvement, and are being mediated by Iraq in order to deal with the most dangerous conflicts in the region. There were also development talks between Turkey and Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar and of course Israel and the normalizing states. I assume they have been constructive as they are determined to ease tensions, particularly with regard to limiting Iran’s regional role. The other impressive development that can fuel regional convergence and ease tensions is the newly planned trilateral talks between Egypt, Jordan and Iraq to deepen their economic ties and highlight the potential for growth-enhancing regional integration. Indeed, these talks can not only help the US keep their distance, but also encourage the region to be more self-reliant. In the meantime, the US and its regional allies continue to play a pre-eminent role in Gulf security.
Iran is believed to be attempting to open a new outlet for Iranian oil through talks with Saudi Arabia while pursuing an alternative strategy with the kingdom to take the opportunity to use its bargaining power in the Vienna negotiations with the Americans to strengthen its influence in the region. While Tehran is in a rush to negotiate, Israel and the Arab Gulf States remain concerned about Iran, its ballistic missile arsenal, proxy war activities and uranium enrichment. The Biden government’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal will not be sustainable without the support of Israel and its Gulf allies, namely Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The ongoing situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including the recent Israeli military offensive against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, contradicts the international community, including United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and calls for an immediate end to all hostilities. The commander of the Iranian Quds Force, the elite regiment of the Islamic Republican Guard Corps, Ismail Qaani, assured Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in a phone call on Saturday that he supported the movement and called for the formation of a strategic coalition to resolve the Palestinian issue Problem. particular attention to the removal of Palestine and Jerusalem from the Israeli occupation. Such statements, together with Iranian military aid to Hamas, have escalated the “shadow war” between Israel and Iran, with some speculation that Iran will be disappointed with the outcome of the Vienna negotiations on the lifting of sanctions.
READ: The Iran-backed group storms the Baghdad Green Zone to release the imprisoned leader
In general, despite the rhetoric of the Biden administration, no fundamental shift in US regional strategy is expected. However, a sense of desperation, especially among the centrist Democrats, has led to numerous debates and questions about the importance of maintaining the US military’s high level of military engagement in the Middle East for decades. It is argued that US foreign policy has often been bogged down by problems in the Gulf. However, the fact is that Iran remains a major problem if the US is to pull back on its Middle East policy.
In this respect, I believe that the Biden administration needs different and more effective instruments to pursue its strategies for the Middle East and even to reduce the US presence in the region while protecting its vital interests, given the differences between the security definitions of the American and US allies are big, particularly in the context of the Gulf States’ need for at least minimal reconciliation and non-confrontation with Tehran. Washington should help key players increase their commitment to working together, as US cutbacks remain possible. Some agreement with Tehran on its key nuclear problems, its proxies and its missile program could encourage limited steps towards de-conflict and stabilization in the region, while the commitments of the other actors would be particularly important to Iran.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of Middle East Monitor.