The Biden-Obama Administration’s 'Rebalancing' in the Middle East

Biden changed "maximum pressure" on Iran to "maximum concessions."

President Joe Biden seems to be dedicated to the foreign policies of his former boss, President Barrack Obama. Like Obama, he is clearly bent on reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) also known as the Iran nuclear deal. In its eagerness to sign a deal with the Iranians at all costs, the Biden administration is willing to overlook the human rights abuses being committed by the Ayatollah’s regime and its praetorian guards – the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). It is similarly ready to put aside the issue of Iran’s development of long-range ballistic missiles that would enable Tehran to equip such long-range missiles with nuclear payloads and target major sites on American soil, not to mention all points in Israel and the Arab Gulf states.

Former President Obama did more than lift the sanctions imposed on Iran, he provided the Ayatollahs with $150 billion in cash. It enabled the Iranian regime to grant generous military and financial aid to the Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, the jihadist Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Hamas in Gaza, as well as the Houthis in Yemen. The windfall from the JCPOA also afforded the IRGC to provide military training, equipment, and funds to an assortment of Shiite militias from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. It amounted to the Obama administration strengthening Iran and its proxies at the expense of the security interests of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain.

President Donald Trump reversed that equation. He applied a “maximum pressure” sanction policy that crippled Iran’s economy. He also maintained closer ties with Saudi Arabia, and designated the Houthis as a terrorist organization. At the same time, Trump became the first American president to fulfill the promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s historical capital – Jerusalem. He recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and acknowledged the legality of Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria. Trump consigned the IRGC to the list of terrorist organizations, and placed sanctions on its leadership.

The Biden administration is now ready to reverse practically all the actions his predecessor took in the Middle East. First and foremost, Biden is prepared to turn Trump’s “maximum pressure” on Iran into “maximum concessions,” rewarding Iran for renegotiating the nuclear deal. The Biden administration is also seeking to bring about a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, just as Obama did. This is part of the administration’s so-called refocusing on the Asia-Pacific theatre, while leaving the Middle East to fend for itself. This divestiture from the region, while China and Russia are moving deeper into the Middle East, may backfire on the US. It is clearly evidenced by Saudi Arabia’s leaders ignoring Biden’s calls and American requests from Riyadh to pump more oil into the market, to satisfy western consumers demand, and in an effort to lower energy costs for Americans. 

Curiously, while asking the Saudis to increase the oil supply so that Americans at the gas pump will be less angry, as they will soon vote in American election primaries, Biden has de-listed the Houthis as a terrorist organization. Another irony is that Biden also asked the Saudis and Israelis to support the sanctions against Russia over its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Yet, at the same time, Russia is more than likely getting sanction waivers so that it can continue to guarantee the nuclear deal with Iran. No wonder the Saudis are snubbing the Biden team.  

Biden’s “balancing” act is in many ways an assault on the regional order the US had established following WWII. The nuclear deal with Iran would likely replace the former US-led regional security structure with a system in which Iran, backed by China and Russia, becomes America’s new sub-contractors, while its hitherto allies - the Arab Gulf states, and to some extent Israel, are demoted to second-tier states. It is precisely for this reason that some of the moderate Sunni-Arab states, especially Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, the UAE, and Israel, seem to be forming a defense and security pact, as a bulwark against an aggressive and hegemonic Iran, that is becoming a “threshold nuclear state.” The above mentioned states still hope that the US will play a major role in such an alliance. The Sde Boker summit earlier this month laid this unprecedented foundation.

During both the Biden and Obama administrations, Iran increased its maligning activities in the region directly or through its Shiite proxies. Yet both Biden and Obama have called on Riyadh to “de-escalate its war in Yemen against the Houthis, and advised Jerusalem to forgo building homes in Judea and Samaria lest it might alienate the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, where Mahmud Abbas, and his failed team have shown little willingness to compromise for peace. Biden’s Washington also counseled Israel to be more restrained in responding to the PIJ and Hamas’s provocative terror attack on Israeli cities last May, which prompted Israel to react with Operation Guardians of the Wall.

In fact, Reuters reported (April 7, 2021) that, “The Biden administration announced (that) it would provide $235 million in US aid to the Palestinians, restarting funding for the United Nations agency supporting refugees (UNRWA) and restoring other assistance cut off by then-President Donald Trump.”  UNWRA is nothing less than an incubator for Palestinian terrorism. At UNRWA schools, children are taught hate for Israel, Jews, and non-Muslims. The following month, while Hamas and the PIJ lobbed missiles at Israeli cities, Reuters reported (May 14, 2021) that, “The Biden administration notified Congress…that it will send millions of dollars in US assistance to the Palestinians aimed at promoting peace even as violence between the two sides rages… US calls for restraint, (and) that it will provide $10 million to Palestinian groups in the West Bank and Gaza… The recipients of the aid were not named.”

Both Hamas and PIJ are trained, armed, and funded by Iran’s IRGC, and should the renewed nuclear deal with Iran be signed and implemented, Iran will once again receive billions of dollars in sanctions relief, and Russia, no doubt will also get a cut, which will help Moscow fund its war in Ukraine.

In a March 2016 interview with the Atlantic Magazine, President Obama asserted that wars and chaos in the Middle East will not end until Saudi Arabia and Iran can find a way “to share the neighborhood.” Obama had thought to create a balance of powers between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. What he clearly missed is the fact that Iran wants to “wipe Israel off the map,” and in its hegemonic drive in the region, it is employing terror and instability throughout the region, not to mention its efforts to push the US out of the Middle East. President Biden is willingly going along with Iran’s desire to expel the US from the region, albeit, it is happening with Iranian rockets aimed at servicemen and US facilities in the region.

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