Is change coming to the Middle East?

The arrival of President Joe Biden to the White House from a general “Israel” consensus point of view is, it’s not as good as the Donald Trump years, but it won’t be as bad as the Barak Obama era.

The US embassy will remain in Jerusalem, as this act was the implementation of a law passed by Congress in 1995, despite wild predictions of a “blood bath” if a move took place.

We also know that the huge success stories of peace and trade treaties between Israel and the Gulf States were welcomed and will be encouraged to grow and flourish.

However President Biden plans to reopen the PLO office in Washington, which was closed in 2018 by Trump, against a backdrop of the Palestinian Authority boycotting the Trump administration. To reopen the diplomatic office would violate congressional legislation that ordered it shut in the first place, if the Palestinians filed a suit against Israel at the ICC, which they did in 2017.

The president also plans to reopen the US consulate on the east side of Jerusalem, which was closed by Trump after the Embassy moved from Tel Aviv. But the reopening would require a degree of permission from the Israeli government, who is concerned that the “West Bank” would be designated as a separate entity from Israel.

Then we have the major obstacle of the Iran nuclear deal. Biden would re-join the JCPOA signed in 2015 and drop the sanctions, if Tehran resumes strict compliance with the agreement. But the worry is that nuclear capabilities in the hands of the Iranian regime would be a huge threat to the future of the State of Israel, the Gulf States and the entire region.

Earlier this week IDF Chief of Staff, Aviv Kohavi, called upon President Biden NOT to re-enter the deal as “Iran now has enough uranium, because of its violations of the deal, to build a bomb within months.” The UAE and Bahrain are saying the exact same words and insist they are standing with Israel as one united voice in their meetings with the Americans.

Joe Biden appointed Antony Blinken, as Secretary of State and Deputy Secretary, Wendy Sherman, both of whom were part of the Obama administration. Blinken, who takes over from Mike Pompeo, is said to be “sensitive” to Israeli concerns on Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.

But this time the US may wish to strengthen the agreement by lengthening it, which could indicate America wishes to deal with Iran’s international ballistic missile project and halting the enrichment of uranium completely.

As for US ambassador to Israel, President Trump picked David Friedman, who was well connected in Washington, very well connected in Israel and had substantial connections within the Jewish communities. Under Obama, the only Ambassador that had a reasonable relationship with Israel and the Jewish community was Dan Shapiro, so Biden will likely choose someone who has good relations on all sides.

Biden’s persona is also very different from Obama. Biden is extremely good at building relations and is more of a “put your arm around kind of guy.” This is how he has traditionally done his politics. Obama was more of a straight talker and certainly, a less friendly figure.

Under Trump, Israel enjoyed to a large extent, a degree of freedom to act to prevent, or slow down hostile activity against Israel from Iranian positions in Syria, who are looking to establish a strong and permanent presence.

Iran and its proxies have been infiltrating Israel’s northern border for years. Even in Gaza, Israel has had a relatively free hand in an act of self-defense to hit mostly, Islamic Jihad positions, backed by Iran.

It was Israel that made the Americans aware of how Iran was breaking the JCPOA deal for a long time.

The famous case of Mossad stealing 50,000 pages of documents and 163 compact discs of memos, videos and plans of its nuclear program from an Iranian warehouse in a commercial district of Tehran, was announced by Prime Minister Netanyahu in April 2018. The heist documented years of Iranian work on atomic weapons, warhead designs and production plans and was another reason why Trump abandoned the nuclear deal.

But Biden’s team is perhaps more experienced and maybe more balanced. They will certainly have a different approach towards Israel and that will cause tension.

In addition, Prime Minister Netanyahu is extremely unpopular with Democrats. In 2015, during the Obama administration, Netanyahu is said to have not informed the White House about the content of his speech to Congress, which expressed strong opposition to the Iran deal.

About a third of Democrats agreed with Netanyahu, but there was still a dramatic drop in his standing. Bibi was entitled to oppose the deal as it represented a substantial threat to the future of the State of Israel. But many Democrats felt because of his many meetings with Republicans at the time, he took political sides in what was supposed to be a non-partisan issue. However Biden is not likely to bear a grudge, as he wants to have a good relationship with Israel.

The strategic change in the region is the alliance between Israel and Sunni Arab nations, so the geopolitics has changed since the Obama years and Iran is less trusted today, than it was in 2015. But Bibi Netanyahu is the King of Politics and he and Biden will likely have a good relationship.

About the Author
James J. Marlow is a broadcast journalist and public relations media consultant. He has previously worked for ITN, EuroNews, Reuters, Daily Mail, Daily Express, LBC Radio, Sky News and GB News. In addition he has trained and prepared hundreds of business and entertainment people, politicians and Rabbis, for the media, including television, radio and audiences.
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