Ever since Franklin Roosevelt became President of the United States, the Middle East has always been an important station in the visits, but also in the policymaking of any president who arrives at the White House. In this politically sensitive, economically important, strategically energy-critical and security-threatening region, there is a need for any new US administration to be vigilant in dealing with it and in drawing up specific plans. In some cases, in fact, these plans are at the heart of Washington's international policy. Between wars, balances, interests, sieges and peace agreements, we can say that the influence of each American president may be the most decisive in the situation in the Middle East in general.
So, while we are just a few hours before the final results of the US presidential election between Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Republican nominee Donald Trump, we as observers can state our views on the implications of the election of each of the candidates in the Middle East and which of its countries will be happy and which will be in trouble.
In my personal opinion, there are four countries most affected in the Middle East, the first of which is Iran and its allies in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, the second is Israel, Washington's most important strategic ally in the region, the third is Turkey, the recently emerging power internationally and regionally, and the fourth, Saudi Arabia, the kingdom of the crown and oil.
Iran and its tools
In Tehran, the atmosphere is as clear as the sky on a sunny day. The Iranian regime is certain that Biden will return the water to the ditch in the nuclear deal and thus lift the financial sanctions, freeing Iranian funds in US and European banks that can reach one hundred billion dollars, so the Iranian regime will be able to rearrange its house on the one hand and its points of influence in the region on the other. Also, the steadfastness that this regime has shown in the four years of tension against Trump will give Tehran an extra point against Biden, which it will use to reduce pressure on its militias in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq.
Biden will try to normalise the climate with the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, allow it to be part of the Lebanese political system and lift economic sanctions against it. In Syria, the scenario may be different. Biden will return to supporting his loyal allies, the Kurdish militias, in eastern Syria, while sanctions on the Assad regime will not be reduced but may be increased to pressure Assad to join a political process with the Syrian opposition. Biden will almost certainly work to end the war in Yemen by pushing Riyadh to accept a political solution that will give the Iranian Houthi militia significant political power.
(Source: counterfire.org. Photos: Gage Skidmore / edited by Shabbir Lakha / CC BY-SA 2.0)
This happy atmosphere in Tehran could become a dark nightmare if Trump wins this election, as he will further increase pressure against the Iranian regime, which will face two options. The first will be to comply with Trump's demands, namely to abandon its secret military nuclear program and open its military factories to inspectors. This will also mean abandoning much of its ballistic missiles programme. As for its regional influence, pressure on Hezbollah's militia in Lebanon will increase over time. The second option for Tehran would be to move to a military escalation in order to impose its terms on Trump, but with dire consequences. In the meantime, Assad could be the winner if Trump stays in the White House, as he will return to the option of withdrawing completely from Eastern Syria and thus Assad will fill the gap there by forcing the Kurdish militias to comply with the humiliating conditions that he will impose on them. In Yemen, the scenario will remain as complicated as it is today.
Well-informed diplomatic sources assured me of the indirect understandings that have already begun in the Lebanon file between Iran and Israel. One of the most important points is the demarcation of the sea and land borders. I believe that this could be the beginning of a greater understanding that will include the future of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the expansion of direct Iran-Israel relations.
For Israel, as it is Washington's most important strategic ally in the Middle East, White House fluctuations always have a less negative effect on the atmosphere there. Whether Trump stays in the White House or Biden is the winner, the Israeli government will be able to adjust to reality. However, this does not mean that Netanyahu will not be happier if Trump stays in power. The gifts offered by Trump to maintain the economic and political support of the Israeli lobby in Washington are important gifts and achievements for the Middle East in general, from the relocation of the US embassy in Jerusalem to the recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel and then the recent normalization agreements along with assurances of new similar agreements that could be reached if Trump wins this election round.
Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump (source: MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE/REX)
With Biden's presence in the White House, the atmosphere may be a bit tense with some Gulf administrations, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which may make the normalization environment less enthusiastic in light of possible political fluctuations, which I will discuss in detail below. Also, the lifting of sanctions against Tehran will mean that Israel will have two paths ahead. The first is to secretly move against Tehran and crack down on its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, as it did in the covert operation in recent months. The second way is to escalate according to the "Operation Opera" scenario, i.e. through direct air or missile attacks against Iran's nuclear program. In any case, Biden will face a major challenge in trying to appease Israel and convince it of its policy toward Tehran.
The situation in Ankara is generally not good, either with Trump remaining in the White House or with his departure and the victory of the Democratic candidate Biden. But the level of evil in the view of the current Turkish government may be different between the two American candidates. Trump, despite his recent escalation over the Russian S400s bought by Ankara and threats of harsh financial sanctions that may involve the defence industry and Turkish banks, is debatable on many issues. For example, if Trump opts for a full withdrawal from Syria, Iraq, or Somalia, then Washington will have to work with Ankara to fill the gap there. In addition, Washington's energy investment plans in the eastern Mediterranean will not go without an understanding with Ankara. These mutual interests mean give and take, and so the Turkish government can finally reduce the level of American pressure with Trump's presence in the White House.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Donald Trump (source: https://www.alexstefanopoulos.gr/)
With Biden, the prospects will be bleak for Ankara, as statements and leaks by the Democratic nominee leave no doubt that he will return to the Obama policy that has been hostile to the current Turkish government. Biden publicly confirmed his intention to support the Turkish opposition to change the Turkish regime and impose harsh financial sanctions on the S400. And its Kurdish policy in Syria, which could be extended to include the Kurdish element throughout Iraq, from Turkey to Iran, would pose a threat to Turkey's national security. When Biden will restrict Turkish movements in the eastern Mediterranean, this escalation will be met with escalation by the Turkish government, which will not give in to these pressures, but will rather choose to move eastward towards stronger relations with China and Russia, which may be the beginning of a Turkish withdrawal from NATO.
Many may disagree with what I will quote, but in politics we need to go further than what seems clear and unambiguous. In the summer of 2016, during Obama's presence in the White House, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, then Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, paid a visit to the United States, which lasted several days. During the visit, he met with several US officials, led by Obama. Publicly, the reason for the visit was the increase in the level of military and economic cooperation between the two countries.
Several sources, however, assured me that this visit had an undisclosed reason. According to them, Mohammed bin Salman asked the Obama administration to give him the green light to turn against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was then the Crown Prince, in exchange for huge financial and defence contracts to support the Obama administration. This request met the strong refusal of the American government, of which Biden was vice-president.
Democrats know the importance of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as he worked closely with the US National Security Council and the CIA, playing a key role in fighting al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia during his tenure as Secretary of the Interior. This introduction is essential to understanding Biden's vision for Saudi Arabia and Prince Mohammed bin Salman, especially if he is in the White House.
Biden's victory will probably bring significant tensions to US-Saudi relations, which could include US pressure on the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and a ban on arms sales to Riyadh. On the other hand, Bin Salman can try to woo Biden by agreeing to normalise with Israel as a gift of consolation. In general, however, Saudi Arabia, led by bin Salman, will not be happy with Biden's arrival at the White House.
Joe Biden, Mohammed bin Salman, Donald Trump (source: ft.com)
As for Trump's stay in the White House, the normalisation between Saudi Arabia and Israel will be the first reward for his satisfaction for the sake of strengthening his relations with Bin Salman. The level of cooperation between the two countries will increase in the military and energy sectors. The Emirates' feelings for the two candidates should be considered identical to those of the Saudis.
Ultimately, Trump's stay in the White House may satisfy some parties and disrupt the convenience of others, and the same is true of Biden's arrival in the White House. This negative and positive reflection in the Middle East will not stop at its borders. Europe is on the lookout for the results of this election, which is also being watched by Moscow and Beijing with concern about who will be the next White House resident. This fact confirms once again that Washington plays the most important role in many international files and still has a huge influence on the balance of the entire world.