The Middle East is Sending Clear Messages to President-Elect Biden

Elad Simchayoff

The Leaders of Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and President Trump are signaling Biden with words and with actions


On November 27, 2020, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, was about to go on a trip with his wife to their holiday home in a suburb of Tehran. The couple was accompanied by three security cars. At some point, the leading car separated from the motorcade to conduct a security check of the house. At this point, shots were fired on Fakhrizadeh’s car. Thinking there was a problem with the engine, the scientist stopped and left the vehicle.

When he was standing outside examining his car, an automatic rifle shot at him. Iranian Fars News Agency later reported that the rifle was mounted on a Nisan pickup truck that stopped close by and was operated by remote control. Fakhrizadeh was hit by three bullets and died shortly after. Seconds later, the Nisan truck exploded by what seemed like a self destruct mechanism. The whole operation lasted 3 minutes.

The assassination of Fakhrizadeh, the driving force behind Iran’s nuclear program should be taken into context. It’s one of a few more developments currently happening in the region. A few days prior, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu had a secret trip to Saudi Arabia and an unannounced meeting with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman. The US Secretary of State Pompeo was also present.

While Israeli officials have met with Saudi officials before, such a high-level meeting being unofficially reported publicly and not denied by both sides is an unprecedented event. One can only imagine what was discussed in the meeting between three men who share very similar views regarding the dangers of the Iranian nuclear program and regarding the American role in stopping it.

Meanwhile, there was news regarding the Iranian front coming from the US as well. In what is probably one of its last foreign acts of his presidency, Trump issued fresh sanctions on Iran. The US Treasury and State departments announced steps against an Iranian charity accusing it of human rights violations.

This step came in proximity to a New York Times report stating that “Trump sought options for attacking Iran to stop its growing nuclear program”. It was later reported that Israel is preparing for a possible US strike in Iran before Trump leaves office.

These are all recent developments, and they are all connected.


Actions speak louder, as they say, but in recent weeks there was also quite a lot of talk. From the Iranian side, officials called President-elect Biden to lift the sanctions. Calling the Trump administration “a terrorist administration”, the president of Iran called for an “atmosphere of opportunities” under Biden’s new government.

In the meanwhile, there were some clear messages coming from the other side too. The Israeli PM saying that the previous Iran nuclear deal should not be put back on the table. The Saudi Prince Turki Bin Faisal Al Saud also cautioned against the old deal saying, “While we all aspire to have Iran back as a normal peaceful nation-state within the international community, the last forty years’ experience with the Iranian regime is not encouraging”.

Secretary Pompeo also commented, releasing a statement titled “The Importance of Sanctions on Iran”.

In mid-November, 3 months after an operation in which Abu Muhammad al-Masri, Al Qaeda’s number 2 man, was assassinated in Tehran an article claiming it was an Israeli-American operation was published in the New York Times. Israeli former security chiefs had little doubt that the publication, a week after Joe Biden was declared the winner in the elections, was a clear message to the President-elect.

Same as with the actions, these words are all also well connected.

The Message

Even before President-elect Biden officially takes office, a battle for his attention, and the future of the middle east, is already underway.

In 2018, President Trump withdrew from the Iran deal that was the making of his predecessor Barack Obama. It was a move hailed by Israeli and Saudi leaders, a long and vocal opposition to the deal.

Biden has been a part of President Obama’s team, and a supporter of his deal. He said during the campaign that he intends to bring the deal back to life, and in his first interview after being elected, reiterated his intentions. “In consultation with our allies and partners, we’re going to engage in negotiations and follow-on agreements to tighten and lengthen Iran’s nuclear constraints, as well as address the missile program. The U.S. always has the option to snap back sanctions if need be, and Iran knows that”, Biden said.

A return to the old deal is considered a disaster for some countries in the region, mainly Israel and Saudi Arabia. In recent words and actions their message to President-elect Joe Biden is clear, ‘America’s allies in the Middle East do not approve’.

There is, however, additional reasoning to the latest developments. In recent acts, the Israeli, Saudi, and current American leaders are trying to shape reality in order to make it impossible for Biden to return to Obama’s deal. By assassinating the head of the nuclear’s program in such a public way, by sanctioning Iran, and threatening it with an upcoming strike, the trio of leaders might be trying to push Iran into retaliation and so making any diplomatic avenues no longer relevant.

There is another scenario. The Iranians were hoping to keep a low profile until Biden takes office in order to show that they could keep their end of the deal. Iran might choose not to act, and thus, huge damage will be done to their nuclear program and moral without any real consequence for whoever was responsible for causing it. In the eyes of those opposed to the Iran nuclear program, it’s a win-win situation.

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I love writing about what I love. Journalist. Always curious. Israeli born, London based. Father, Husband, and a dog person.


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