President-elect Joe Biden is not going to find the same favours that Donald Trump did in the Gulf capitals, with the latter developing a transactional affair with the likes of Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia while simultaneously threatening a conflict with Iran, a narrative palatable to Tehran’s regional detractors.
Biden is expected to retract some of the Trump policies in the region that were largely welcomed. Some of the changes we may witness could include a harder stance by the new administration on Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen; the UAE’s role in Libya and elsewhere could be expected as offsets to Abu Dhabi’s successful bargaining with the Trump administration on the side lines of the Abraham Accords for F-35 fighter jets. Concessions on human rights, that Trump overlooked, such as in the case of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 may come back to haunt Riyadh, and by association Abu Dhabi. Further stress on Israel, while maintaining the historic status quo, on issues such as Benjamin Netanyahu’s prospects for annexation of the West Bank may rise. And amidst all this, Recep Erdoğan’s Turkey may become the single biggest unsaid challenge during Biden’s tenure.
Iran, however, will be the fulcrum issue. After Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) in 2018 and the killing of Iranian general Qasseim Soleimani in January this year—bringing Tehran back to the negotiating table to re-enter the Obama-era JCPOA, when Biden himself was Vice President—will be the president-elect’s major challenge in the region. With Tehran having the upper hand of blaming the US over the collapse of the agreement, the success of a revised outreach to Iran by the Biden administration will face renewed headwinds from the Gulf, particularly the UAE and Israel, who now have the ability to openly work together to influence Washington D.C.
Finally, the possible return of the Obama-era foreign policymakers into Biden’s fold would be of primary concern in the larger Arab world, with flashbacks to the Arab Spring and the abandonment of leaders, and often its own leadership by the US, still fresh in the minds of both who survived it, and those who didn’t.
Kabir Taneja is a Fellow with Strategic Studies programme. His research focuses on Indias relations with West Asia specifically looking at the domestic political dynamics ...Read More +