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Biden's first policy signals on the Middle East


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Today Extremadura

framework Demichelis

researcher senior at programs of study Islámicos e Historia de Oriente Medio. Institute for Culture and Society University of Navarra

The pacification of the Middle East has always been a challenge for the US Democratic Party. However, from the Bill Clinton administration onwards, Washington's credibility has been very low in this regard. The terms of George W. Bush and Donald Trump were disastrous for the region and Barack Obama failed to rise to the occasion in a very favorable historical phase, the Arab Springs.

In recent weeks, the new Biden administration has given some signals about its future policy decisions on the Middle East. Some are continuities with his predecessors and others are a departure.

First, it is worth talking about relations with Israel. During the 2020 election campaign, the candidate stated flatly that the US embassy would remain in Jerusalem - as decided by Trump - and would not move to Tel Aviv, something that was confirmed in January 2021. Moreover, Benjamin Netanyahu has not yet received a call from the American president, which is surprising considering the close relationship that had been maintained between the two countries.

It should be added that the Israeli Prime Minister has also not called Biden after his inauguration. The recent speculations of the conservative newspaper The Jerusalem Post denote Tel Aviv's fear of confronting Obama's former vice president, with whom the Democratic administration reached diplomatic compatibility lows.

Regarding the Yemeni conflict, Biden has stated that he will not continue to support any violent solution or military funding from Riyadh. He will stop considering as group terrorist the Houthis, the Zaidi Shiites who militarily control the northern part of the country. This is a wise decision, considering that the presence of this religious minority in northern Yemen dates back to the 8th century and that, in all this time, no one has succeeded in expelling them from the region.

This attitude is related to the possibility of signing a agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, it is not yet known whether the one already ratified during Obama's presidency or another one. The small steps that have been taken do not reveal Washington's true intentions in this geographic area .

Everything is connected: Israel, Iran, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. However, it is still too early to see what direction events will take. One can only speculate.

While it is true that Biden has already made a decision on Yemen, a double reading can be made: the conflict involves poor actors using military technology coming from countries that take advantage of the historical fragmentation of the region to play "Risk". The White House wants to put a stop to this slaughter and the humanitarian crisis, but at the same time, to get a region out of the way in the ideological confrontation between Riyadh and Tehran.

The reading from the Iranian capital can also be twofold. One can see this step as the first to normalize relations with the new Democratic administration, but also as an attempt to win the home game by pursuing the policy of financing arms to the Houthis.

The latter would pose a more far-reaching problem. The Houthis have won the local war, conquering the capital, Sana'a, and setting themselves up as the main interlocutors to divide the state again into two areas, a pro-Shia North Yemen and a pro-Sunni South Yemen. A stable peace is missing agreement .

Similarly, Biden has been quite clear with Tehran: until enriched uranium production is curbed, there will be no further talk of cutting economic sanctions, even though we are a long way from Iran being able to build a nuclear device. It is going to be very difficult for Washington to reach a agreement with Tehran without involving Tel Aviv, which continues to give prominence to its role in domestic and foreign policy.

To date, after these first American decisions, Erbil airport has been attacked by missiles of unclear origin and the Houthis have launched a military attack in the direction of the oil-producing regions of Mar'ib in the northeast of the country. Two reactions that are not exactly encouraging.

Anthony Blinken, new Secretary of State; Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense; and Rob Malley, Biden's special envoy to Iran, have experience and skill to make new attempts to resolve some conflicts in the Middle East. Their main challenges are a agreement over the Iranian nuclear program; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and the insecurity in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, aggravated by the clash of Israeli, Iranian and Saudi propaganda.

Regarding the first challenge, it is clear that a diplomatic opening of Washington towards Iran requires a agreement on international sanctions, in addition to allowing Lebanon and Iraq to free themselves from Tehran's presence and interests on their internal borders. The propaganda about the nuclear program has no credibility and it is not possible that Tehran can produce a bomb for use against Israel in the near future. deadline .

As for the second, Israel has never wanted to consider that the security it seeks is only possible if there is equality and that this requires seeking solutions to the occupation of Palestinian territories - which will be aggravated by the pretension of annexing others near the Jordan. The two-state solution is unrealistic.

Finally, the Wahhabi propaganda in the Sunni world is not able to guarantee the security of Saudi Arabia on the border with Yemen, regardless of the issue of arms purchased by the West. Its power, money and influence have been able to preserve the autocracy in the face of the Arab Spring, which even today demonstrates its ideological and religious weakness.

These three challenges respond to the same idea: to stabilize a region that persists in its perennial identity crisis.