The signing of the Abraham Accords is a significant achievement and part of a broader push of US President Donald Trump’s administration to cement his Middle East policy ahead of the presidential election, as early in-person voting is starting.
First and foremost, it helps counter the Iranian influence in the region and creates a public front of countries that opposed the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran, ensuring that even if Joe Biden were to win the election, it would be harder for him to reenter the same deal that the Obama administration has signed. In 2015, Israel and the Gulf states were against the deal, but they could not share their concerns jointly – at least not in public.
On Tuesday, the president noted that the recent developments could bring Iran to the table as well after the election. “Iran is suffering, I don’t want them to suffer, but their economy has tanked, and I think they want to make a deal, and I will make a very fair deal,” the president said.
Trump is also invested in making good on another promise of his 2016 campaign by reducing US military presence across the Middle East. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with a Taliban delegation in Qatar over the weekend for the Afghanistan peace negotiations, as Trump is interested in securing progress that would enable US troops to safely leave the country, in addition to a partial withdrawal from Iraq.
This multi-channel progress, together with the economic agreement between Serbia and Kosovo (which agreed to open an embassy in Jerusalem), brings Trump in a good position for the debate with Biden when it comes to foreign policy. It also helps Trump showcase his ability to broker complicated deals, as a full trade agreement with China seems unlikely before the election, as does an agreement to denuclearize North Korea.
With that said, it is hard to predict what would be the political influence of these agreements (and possible additional agreements) on November’s election, as foreign policy is traditionally not a top priority for voters. The economy remains the most critical issue, as the unemployment rate recently decreased to 8.4%. Healthcare, and specifically COVID-19, remains a high priority as well, as the US still faces a significant number of daily cases.
On his photo opportunity with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump said five additional countries are about to join Bahrain and the UAE. “Some before the elections, perhaps,” said Trump. As diplomats from Oman and Sudan attended the ceremony at the White House, speculations arose that they could be next.
The question that remains open is if Saudi Arabia is also included in this group. If the answer is yes, it would be a geopolitical game changer for the Middle East for many years to come.