As the White House is set to unveil the roadmap for the second half of the presidency, the focus seems to remain on the same key issues. Trump is still pressuring the Iranian regime; evidence of this being that he deliberately re-imposed oil and financial sanctions two days before midterm voters took to the polls. He instructed US authorities - the Treasury, State Department, Department of Defense and the Pentagon – to implement the sanctions, while adding more sanctions to Iran-backed militias, such as Hezbollah. The exceptions that Trump offered to allied states were aimed at curbing a surge in oil prices, giving a six-month leeway for allied countries to end their oil purchase contracts. And of course, Trump gave plenty of time for the Khamenei regime to make concessions, rather than getting itself trapped in a tight corner. The goal is not to overthrow the regime, so much as it is to modify its behavior.
Palestine, Yemen and Syria
The second main issue is the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which only a year ago was the object of ridicule from skeptics and attacked by rejectionists. Now, everyone in the region has to take the issue seriously, and it’s not impossible to imagine that the course of the conflict and its mechanisms may soon change. Recent news from Oman, following the Israeli Prime Minister's visit reflects a new reality; that most of the countries in the region will engage with Israel. Iran was the cause of this, as Tehran conspired to dominate Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Bahrain. Israel has an important role in a coalition against the Iranian Supreme Leader's project. President Trump and his advisor Jared Kushner in the next two years will play a major role in changing the current understandings of disagreements and alliances in the region.
In the next two years, the war in Yemen will also be a priority for Trump who will seek to support his Saudi ally. This comes especially as Yemeni forces, along with their Saudi and UAE partners, are advancing in difficult enemy areas, including Saada province, the homeland of the Houthis, as well as Hodeidah and its key port.
As for the most dangerous and critical issue of Syria, most of the administration’s plans were accomplished in the first half of Trump’s presidency. The president changed his policy on Syria, from withdrawal to survival, and openly declared that he would keep a US military presence in the country, in defiance of the continued presence of Iranian forces and Iranian-backed militias. The difficult challenge now is to persuade Russia to abandon the Iranians or to allow Israel to resume air strikes on the Iranian military presence, despite Israel’s paralysis following the introduction of a Russian anti-aircraft missile system in Syria.
Still, this is all without taking into account the surprises of the region. We cannot rule out that Iran will retaliate in the coming period to embarrass the Trump administration and force it to make concessions. We have seen this from Iran before, with the Obama administration, when Iranian forces detained US Marines. This time, Iran may provoke confrontations with Gulf forces or instruct their militias to carry out attacks on US interests in Iraq. While this is all plausible, it would be a dangerous exploit for Iran itself.