World News

Joe Biden's election brings relief and concern in Middle East

By Dalal Saoud   |   Nov. 10, 2020 at 3:04 PM
Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey are among the countries watching with concern -- each for its own reasons -- for a dramatic shift in U.S. policy under Joe Biden. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI Israel fears that U.S. President-elect Joe Biden won't go ahead with the "deal of the century," the peace plan brokered by outgoing President Donald Trump (2nd L), shown here with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L), United Arab Emirates' Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Bahrain Foreign Minister  Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani (R) during the signing ceremony for the deal at the White House on September 15. File Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Nov. 10 (UPI) -- The defeat of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election brought relief to some countries in the troubled Middle East, but raised much concern for others over the difficulty President-elect Joe Biden faces to fix his predecessor's erratic policy, Arab analysts said.

"There is the winners' camp and the losers' camp...Those who welcomed Biden's win and those who are apprehensive," Oraib Rantawi, founder and director of the Amman-based Al Quds Center for Political Studies, told UPI.

Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey are among the countries watching with concern -- each for its own reasons -- for a dramatic shift in U.S. policy under Biden.

"Israel fears that Biden won't go ahead with the 'deal of the century'," Trump's peace plan, Rantawi said. "It is true that Biden will not relocate the U.S. Embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, but he will reconfirm the two-state solution as he is among those supporting the idea of establishing a Palestinian state, criticizing Israel's settlement expansion and opposing annexation of large parts of the West Bank."

In return, U.S.-Palestinian relations are expected to improve under Biden, through the reopening of the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington and restoration of economic and financial aid to the Palestinians and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

Jordan, like the Palestinians, "breathed a sigh of relief" with Biden's victory for it fears that the "deal of the century," Israel's annexation plans and the recent Arab-Israel normalization trend "are to threaten its interests in any final settlement of the Palestinian problem, specifically its role in Jerusalem and its custody of Muslim and Christian sites," Rantawi said.

But what would be most annoying for Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, is Biden's promises to change U.S. policy on Iran, favoring a softer approach to renegotiate Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers to include Iran's ballistic missile program and intervention in the region.

"Biden believes that there is a smarter way to be tough on Iran," Riad Tabbarah, Lebanon's former ambassador in Washington, told UPI. "The Iranians have been waiting for this moment and will grasp the opportunity to negotiate with him. They don't have any choice, as they have reached the finishing line, barely breathing, after the severe sanctions imposed by Barack Obama's administration and maintained by Trump exhausted them."

Biden has expressed unshakable commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb and promised a credible path back to diplomacy and to continue to push back against Tehran's destabilizing activities. Iran still has strong cards to play at any upcoming negotiations: a strong presence in Iraq and Syria, a solid influence in Lebanon through its most powerful regional proxy, Hezbollah, and as a pivotal actor in Yemen.

In Lebanon, the United States is expected to maintain its policy of exerting maximum pressure on Hezbollah, targeting its officials, supporters and allies with sanctions. It will also keep pushing for concluding Lebanon-Israel negotiations to demarcate disputed maritime borders and for Lebanon to form a new cabinet - without Hezbollah participation -- that is able to deal with the International Monetary Fund on a rescue plan for the ailing economy.

"The Americans and the French are still serious and don't want Lebanon to collapse at any cost...I think the Iranians, too," Tabbarah said, noting that Washington is using "its heavy weapons, meaning the sanctions" and Paris "its light weapons" by exerting diplomatic pressure to implement a French rescue plan.

He argued that the U.S. sanctions, which last week targeted Hezbollah's top Christian ally, Gebran Bassil, and efforts to dry up the groups' funding sources aim to weaken the heavily-armed group "so that to enfeeble Iran and all its other allies like the Houthis in Yemen and the Shiite militias in Iraq before the negotiations resume."

However, any possible breakthrough between Washington and Tehran won't be good news for Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman, Rantawi said. "That would reflect on Yemen and Biden's interest in solving this crisis, which might happen before Bin Salman scores a clear victory that he is still unable to achieve after six years of a destructive war."

Another issue of concern for Riyadh is that Biden might not be as tolerant as Trump was concerning Bin Salman's "free hand" in running the kingdom and dealing with the country's human rights conditions, the Jordanian analyst noted. He referred to a possible more lenient approach by Biden in disclosing "findings" related to the Oct. 2, 2018 murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Turkey is equally concerned because of Biden's criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom he called an "autocrat," over democratic backsliding in his country, decline in human rights and freedom of expression, as well as his close cooperation with Russia.

"The most sensitive issue is the U.S. Democrat's support of the Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, which Ankara considers as supporting terrorism," Rantawi said.

Biden faces challenges in changing course to renew his country's foreign policy assertiveness and global leadership.

"The U.S. at the moment is going through a critical juncture and has to decide whether to maintain its traditional allies and attitudes and position itself to limit the power of China and Russia," said Imad Salamey, an associate professor of political science and international affairs at the Lebanese American University.

"There are important states in the Middle East that we can consider swing states, primarily Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Israel and Egypt. These are very decisive states...But the most important among all of those is Saudi Arabia because it controls almost over 20 percent of supplies of energy and is a major importer of China."

Pulling out from Iraq and Syria and warming ties with Iran will be to the disadvantage of Washington's traditional allies, mainly Saudi Arabia, which would "search for other forms of protection," Salamey told UPI. "They might find it in China and Russia."