The contemporary geo-political shift in the Middle Eastern region, also called as West Asia, is because of its vital geographical location and enormous natural resources. As it provides trade route links to different parts of the globe and connects continents and countries—South Asia, Central Asia, Europe and Africa. The aforementioned region accounts for 34 percent of world production, 45 percent of crude oil exports and 48 percent of oil proven reserves. Therefore, all major powers seek a stake in the affairs of the region.
The major policies of US president Donald Trump apropos the region were, isolation of Iran by unilaterally withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement, imposing heavy sanctions, aggressive posture by assassination of Iranian personalities and Arab-Israel alignment.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was an agreement also referred to as the Iran Nuclear Deal, signed between Iran and P5+1 countries (US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany) on July 14, 2015. The six countries agreed to lift sanctions imposed on Iran, giving it greater access to the global economy. In return, Iran agreed to take steps to curb its ability to make a nuclear bomb. The Trump administration, on May 8, 2018, unilaterally withdrew from the aforementioned agreement. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies saw it as a political victory over Iran, their rival for regional influence. The immediate effect of this decision was the re-imposition of US sanctions that were lifted. It not only put Iran into isolation despite being the major exporter of crude oil but hit its economy hard as well. Trump’s attempt was based on building a new regional order in the Middle East that is more supportive of US allies, namely Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Persian Gulf states, as all consider Iran the major threat.
The Trump Administration created further trouble for Iran by the assassination of General Suleimani on January 3, 2020 who was Iran’s most powerful security and intelligence commander. He was known as the mastermind behind the Islamic Republic’s regional influence stretching from Iraq and Lebanon to Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan. Recently a month back, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated by using the latest technology of artificial intelligence and a machine gun equipped with a satellite-controlled smart system. The act was reportedly carried out by Israel after receiving the green signal from the outgoing Trump administration, as he was seen by Western intelligence services as the mastermind of a covert Iranian programme to develop nuclear weapons capability.
The Arab-Israel alignment was another major development in the Trump era. As the former structure of West Asia was Arab versus Israel, the new alignment changed the structure of the region; Arabs and Israel versus Iran and its allies. In particular, Washington played its cards to save the crown of regional hegemon on the head of its alliance and in general, it was part of a containment strategy against the growing influence of China in the aforementioned region.
The new President-elect of the United States namely Joe Biden will take charge next year on January 20, 2021. The incoming Biden administration is willing to review Trump’s destabilising foreign policy manoeuvres in the Middle-East such as JCPOA to reigning in Turkey’s expansionist pursuits.
The President-elect Joe Biden has promised to rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement (JCPOA) if Iran abides by the deal. Iran’s President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have sent clear messages that Iran is ready to talk to the Biden administration about reviving the deal, as long as Washington abides by the terms of the agreement. The revival of accord would pave the way for Iran to strengthen its economy by joining the oil market again and rid itself from sanctions. It will also allow Iran to exert more and more pressure.
In case of US’ regional alliance, the countries would face serious consequences in the Biden era as he stated that, the US would “reassess its relationship with the Kingdom, end US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil”. And his stated intention of promoting democracy and not overlooking human rights will be a reminder to some Gulf Cooperation Council governments—particularly Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain. The revival of JCPOA and the critical partnership with Turkey could also add fuel into the fire.
These rapid changes in the region raised the competition for the title of the leadership of the Muslim world. The silence of Saudi-Arabia and its allies on key Muslim world issues because of their tilt towards the west and Israel paved the way for Turkey to prop itself up for the competition. The turning of Hagia-Sophia into a mosque, advocating Kashmir and Palestine issues on different international fronts, advocacy to Muslim nations were the instances of Turkey’s expansion in the region.
There are options available for Pakistan in this scenario. The country can avail the option of importing cheaper oil after the revival of JCPOA from the next-door neighbour, namely Iran by further strengthening ties with it rather than relying on the expensive oil from other Middle-Eastern countries. Pakistan, which is only nuclear weapon state in the entire Muslim world, can also play a key role in the competition for the title of leadership as it is the right time to exert influence and turn things as per the country’s national interest.