The door of possibilities is wide open during the coming months through the end of the year, and whoever believes that matters are settled in one direction or another is wrong. The beginning will be difficult; we can expect to see clashes and even minor warfare.
Nevertheless, an optimistic view of the Biden years sees this administration pushing towards a regional solution to many issues, because they are fundamentally interconnected, and some are the result of others. This does not dispel the fear that events might spin out of control or that the worst is yet to come. But because we are at the beginning of the journey with the new administration, it is better to explore positive possibilities, not only out of a sense of optimism, but because they are realistic.
In my opinion, Biden is more capable of bringing about peace in the region. Why do I say that?
By peace, I am not just referring to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which we will address in a future article, but peace in the region's most dangerous conflict, Iran.
Under the Trump’s administration, there was one objective: to punish Iran. And he succeeded, as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani candidly put it a few days ago: “I haven't slept for the past three years because of Trump!” Trump was a specter that haunted the regime as never before, creating a new reality that lays the groundwork for Biden to arrive at a reasonable deal if he goes down the same path.
Trump reclaimed all political and financial benefits that former President Barack Obama granted to the Iranians. Trump pushed them to bankruptcy, besieged them, and nearly defeated them. However, we must say that the regime is still, despite these woes, a trapped, wounded animal that is still capable of inflicting harm.
Biden can build on Trump's gains and propose an end to the confrontation and wars with Iran by amending the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), i.e. Iran nuclear deal, to prevent Iranian expansion beyond its borders and nuclear armament.
The danger is that Iran sees Biden as a weak president and think that his Democratic administration shies away from challenge and confrontation, which will spur Tehran not to concede. Here, perception is more dangerous than reality, whatever the reality may be.
Unless the Washington administration bares its teeth, it will lose control of the dialogue with Iran, with no other option than to back down and accept the old deal that will lead to further wars in the region.
Despite a facade of strength, the Khamenei regime is in dire states and cannot withstand more years of sanctions. Iran's recent attacks on Saudi Arabia and Iraq, increased activity in Afghanistan, and renewed attempts to smuggle oil by sea are a show of force in the face of the Biden administration, which is charting its next steps.
Therefore, Biden's success is rooted in capitalizing on the results of Trump's policy and threatening the regime with continued pressure. And if the administration maintains this pressure and upholds the sanctions, the Iranians will come to the table more prepared for a reasonable solution.
For Khamenei, giving in to Biden is easier than bowing to Trump, but this means ratcheting up the pressure so that Iran is ready for a political solution to complete the objectives of the nuclear deal that Obama failed to achieve.
This, in turn, will lead to resolving conflicts across the region in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and, eventually, even in Israel. The key is to leverage the sanctions, not ease them.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.