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Biden, the Gulf, and Iran

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Countering Iran's antagonism has marked the policy of the Gulf states for nearly four decades, and remains the key factor for consideration when setting policies and forming alliances. The preemptive step taken by the UAE and Bahrain, through establishing full relations with Israel, paved the way for dealing with upcoming changes, including the new US presidency.

There are certain Gulf-Israeli cross-cutting issues while other areas remain controversial. The common enemy of the Gulf and Israel today is the Tehran regime, which explicitly threatens the security and existence of both Israel and the Gulf countries and has built its military plan on this basis. A Joe Biden presidency will oppose Iran's expansion on the ground and its constant threat to US allies in the region.

Read more: Incoming US President Biden may differ with Israel’s Netanyahu on Iran, settlements

Biden pinpointed the two mistakes made by former President Barack Obama's team when they negotiated with Iran and signed the nuclear deal. The first is that Iran's nuclear obligations under the agreement do not prevent it from building a ballistic system, which is a serious flaw. There are now only five years left in the period of time in which Iran is not allowed to enrich uranium. A short stint for a regime that is patient and unwavering in its resolve to build and own nuclear weapons.

A picture taken on November 10, 2019, shows an Iranian flag in Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant. (AFP)
A picture taken on November 10, 2019, shows an Iranian flag in Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant. (AFP)

The second is that the deal did nothing to put the brakes on Iran's threat to the region with its conventional weapons and its quest for influence and control of areas such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, the Gulf, Yemen, Afghanistan, and others.

I cannot imagine peace with Iran without amending the deal, and Biden has reiterated this position on many occasions, directing his words to the Iranians who were paying close attention to his statements during the election campaign. He clearly stated that he would not revive the nuclear deal without amending it, explicitly stipulating the security of his allies as a condition.

For the Gulf states, Biden's policy, if implemented, would certainly be better than Trump's. Iran is an imposing neighbor, and coexisting with it within the framework of a peace agreement with a strong backer is better for the Gulf than confrontation, which would impact the stability of the entire region, as well as affecting its economy and prosperity. Tehran has proven itself to be untrustworthy, even towards the Americans who assumed Iran's goodwill, only to have 10 US Navy sailors captured by Iranian forces late in the Obama era.

Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei speaking via a video conference with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on May 10, 2020. (AFP)
Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei speaking via a video conference with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on May 10, 2020. (AFP)

This despite the fact he’s the only US president to give Iran such an unprecedented opportunity since the souring of relations by the Iran hostage crisis in 1980. What Iran did in Baghdad also threatened US interests, which considers Iraq a keystone in its strategy in the region. Two new realities created in the Trump era will continue during the Biden administration, the first of which is the political bloc of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Emirates and Bahrain, which represents an economic, human and of course political alliance.

The second is the UAE's agreement with Israel in the face of Iran. Qatar will once more try to dismantle this coalition, and it will not succeed. Iran and Turkey, despite their attempts to work together against the Quartet (Saudi, Egypt, UAE and Bahrain), are facing difficulties due to competition and differing expectations between Tehran and Ankara, in addition to the economic hardships they are undergoing.

The dynamic of conflict today between the poles of Riyadh, Tehran and Ankara may recede with the arrival of Biden to the US presidency, if he succeeds in getting a grip on Turkey's problematic ambitions that threaten the countries of the region and Europe.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint press conference with the leaders of Russia and Iran as part of a tripartite summit on Syria, in Ankara, on April 4, 2018. (AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint press conference with the leaders of Russia and Iran as part of a tripartite summit on Syria, in Ankara, on April 4, 2018. (AFP)

Ankara tried and failed to impose a new reality in the eastern Mediterranean and Libya preceding the American elections. Tehran will also seek to calm tensions with Washington and its allies in preparation for ending harsh sanctions against it, or otherwise run the risk of internal collapse.

Given all this, I feel cautiously optimistic about Biden's win, without underestimating the challenges his administration may raise in the future, which I will cover in an upcoming article.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, pan Arab daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat.

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