Everyone will be watching how a Biden presidency will shape the Middle East, if at all.
After four years of Donald Trump, many are turning their attention to what a Biden presidency will look like.
Given that Biden was vice president in the Obama administrations, he has been quick to say that “this is not a third Obama term.” Yet, as much as the President-elect may wish to distance himself from the Obama years, his presidency may find itself being perennially compared to it.
One region of the world where Trump has dramatically shifted the political landscape is the Middle East. It is also one that shaped the Obama administration.
When Biden enters the Oval Office on 20 January, there will be a backlog of issues that will require immediate attention, the Iran file will be chief amongst them.
In March 2013, an intimate group of US officials led by the then US Vice-President’s top foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, travelled to Oman to meet their Iranian counterparts.
The outcome of that meeting led to the 2015 nuclear agreement which Trump withdrew from in 2018.
According to Dr Ali Bakeer, an Ankara-based Middle East political analyst,“There is a general perception that if Biden is going to be Obama 2.0, then most probably his presidency will be pretty much like Obama’s policies.”
“Meaning he will probably fix relations with Iran but the US relations with Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Turkey might suffer,” added Bakeer, speaking to TRT World.
Improving relations with Iran, however, could be easier said than done.
The Trump administration has deepened the trust deficit with Tehran. Will an Iranian politician risk giving concessions or striking another deal with America if in 4 years time, Biden could be out of power? The Democrat has already suggested that he won’t run for another term.
Trump embarked on his own remaking of the Middle East. He emboldened Israel by recognising Jerusalem as the capital, and moved the embassy from Tel Aviv, recognising the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory. He also conjured up a peace plan between Israel and the Palestinians that seemed to only focus on giving as much as possible to Israel - effectively killing the two-state solution that his predecessors had worked towards.
The Trump administration was a golden period for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; it also marked somewhat of a departure from Obama’s time in office.
Obama and Netanyahu had clashed over illegal settlements. The Israeli Prime minister had even hoped that US Senator John McCain, who was running against Obama in the 2008 presidential elections, would have won.
In Trump, and more so his family, in particular his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Netanyahu found an administration that would agree to anything that was asked of it.
Biden, however, may not follow the combative approach of Obama with Netenyahu. The US President-elect is known for his long standing support of Israel and while he is no Trump, he may not reverse all of the Trump era policies.
In 1986, speaking to US lawmakers, the then-Senator Biden said US support for Israel “is the best $3bn investment we make,” referring to the annual aid Washington gives to Israel each year.
“If there weren’t an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region,” Biden went on to add.
It is also worth remembering that one of the last acts of the Obama administration was to provide Israel with $3.8 billion in aid each year over a period of ten years, something that Trump renewed and Biden may also do.
“In my opinion deeds are more important than words, and we should judge his policies when we see them in practice, maybe he will learn from the mistakes of both Obama and Trump,” says Bakeer.
“He might try to oppose illegal settlements in the Israeli case and keep the Arab peace initiative alive, but he is not expected to reverse the measures taken by Trump,” he added.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is going to miss the Trump presidency. His ruthless meteoric rise is in great part thanks to the Trump presidency.
The outgoing US administration turned a blind eye to the worst impulses of the crown prince, even as its own intelligence agency, the CIA, concluded that MBS was responsible for giving the order to kill Washington Post journalist Jamal Khasoggi.
A secret trip, according to several unnamed sources in Israel and Saudi Arabia, by Netanyahu to meet MBS last week may also be an indication that what Trump set in motion in pushing the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan in establishing diplomatic ties, will mean that the incoming Biden administration may have to contend with regional players keen to preserve the gains they made during the Trump years.
Bakeer believes that “there will be pressure on Saudi Arabia” under the Biden administration that was almost non-existent under the outgoing Trump administration.
The wider Middle East
It was during the Obama-Biden years that the Arab world was convulsed in a series of revolutions that led to the overthrowing of autocrats in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, civil war broke out in Syria and Yemen. There was also the rise of ISIS (Daesh).
The Obama administration was criticised for its tepid approach to backing the Arab Spring and for allowing the Assad regime to gas his own people with chemical weapons.
Biden’s picks for his administration so far represent a great deal of continuity with Obama’s one. Antony Blinken, for instance, was an Obama era official who will soon be Secretary of State.
Besides making a radical departure from Trump’s government, the appointment will likely be viewed as a continuity of Obama’s time in office.
There are mutterings already that suggest a Biden presidency may turn out to be “Clinton and Obama retreads.” Ultimately, that’s how the Middle East may remember a Biden administration.