Newly-elected Middle East Leaders Aim to Revive Their Nations’ Greatness

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By Quentin Choy

June 21, 2021

Within the last month, three nations in the Middle East held elections in picking their respective country’s leader. These nations were Israel, Iran, and Armenia. With those three nations having been involved in conflict during 2020 and 2021, these elections reflected a similar pattern from each leader wanting to restore the nation from not just the coronavirus pandemic and economic hardship, but also in asserting military and geopolitical power following recent conflict.

The increased hostilities and occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel, the lost war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region with Azerbaijan, and U.S. sanctions and hostilities with the United States have created unique problems for Israel, Armenia, and Iran respectively.

In this post, I’ll go over what the victories of each leader means for his respective country as well as what it means for the global community and U.S. foreign policy.

Israel

Naftali Bennett was elected as Israel’s newest prime minister, ousting Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party from power. Naftali Bennett is from the more conservative, right-wing party alliance in the Knesset (Israel’s legislature), and he is an outspoken Zionist and nationalist who advocates for more occupations and military action in Occupied Palestine, Gaza, and the West Bank.

Following violence in the region including Israeli airstrikes which killed civilians as well as the bombing of an Associated Press/Al Jazeera media building under center-right Netanyahu, Bennett aims to further escalate Israel’s expeditions into Gaza, hoping to assert Israeli sovereignty over the region.

The bombing of the AP/Al Jazeera media building in Gaza. Courtesy of TRT World.

In terms of U.S. foreign policy, not much will change. The U.S. will continue to support the Israeli government despite its overwhelming military power over Gaza and its human rights abuses, citing it as a “key regional ally” and as a “democracy in an unstable region.”

Iran

Ebrahim Raisi was elected as Iran’s newest president. Iran’s political system is different than other systems with elections, as the president does not hold the most power in Iran. Under Iran’s theocratic system, Iran’s political power lies in the hands of its Supreme Leader, who is appointed for life. The current Supreme Leader is Ali Khamenei, and he is Iran’s second Supreme Leader after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Courtesy of The Independent.

Raisi is a principalist and a conservative Shia Islamist, and he was a leader in the Iran-Iraq War between 1980 and 1988. During that war, the United States supported Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to limit the spread of the Iranian Revolution from pouring over into other countries.

Raisi is more conservative than Iran’s former president, Hassan Rouhani, and Raisi’s election is seen by many as a hardening of Iranian policies. For many Iranian’s the main issue facing their country is the economy which has been decimated by both the coronavirus pandemic and crippling American sanctions. Raisi is open to renegotiating the Iran Nuclear Deal which the U.S. left under the Trump administration, although he says that military and regional issues are off the table.

Ebrahim Raisi. Courtesy of The Herald Bulletin.

The assassination of prominent General Qasem Soleimani coupled with crippling sanctions and the abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal created an image of untrustworthiness to the United States. As a result, Raisi is willing to form regional and economic alliances with Russia and China, which Iran views as more reliable and less hostile toward the country in terms of diplomacy, military, and trade.

Iran’s election of a more hardline leader is a logical result of aggressive sanctions and the abandonment of the nuclear deal on the part of the United States, and Raisi’s election will likely be used by American officials to justify further hostilities toward the nation.

Armenia

Lastly, Armenia re-elected Nikol Pashinyan, its current acting prime minister. Pashinyan is a member of the centrist “Way Out Alliance” in the National Assembly of Armenia, and during his time as acting prime minister, he faced backlash and public demonstrations over his handling of war against Azerbaijan in 2020.

Following the reaching of a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan was allowed to keep the several cities that it had regained from Armenia, which Armenian’s viewed as a terrible loss. Pashinyan agreed to sign on to the conditions of the ceasefire, saying that it would save Armenian lives and prevent further territorial losses.

The loss of the Nagorno-Karabakh War of 2020 was in the minds of Armenians as they went to the polls. Courtesy of The Moscow Times.

While the war and Armenian loss was in the minds of many voters, Pashinyan ultimately survived the vote, and now, with a mandate to govern Armenia, it is unclear as to what direction Pashinyan will take Armenia in terms of military operations, the Nagorno-Karabakh region, and its relation to others in the region.

The election of these new leaders shows a conflict of ideologies, governance, and goals in a region closely watched by the world’s superpowers. With more hardline leaders and reinvigorated self-determination and conflict, only time will tell what these leaders’ legacies will be.

Quentin Choy, creator of <em>WeTheCommoners Blog</em>
Quentin Choy, creator of WeTheCommoners Blog

Quentin is a student of Political Science. He became interested in history and politics in 2015 watching the Republican and Democratic primaries as well as the 2016 General Election.

He is from Hawaii and currently attends school in Colorado.

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