Iran's neighbours congratulate Masoud Pezeshkian on presidential win, but what does it mean for the MENA?

Iran's neighbours congratulate Masoud Pezeshkian on presidential win, but what does it mean for the MENA?
Many of Iran's neighbours congratulated Pezeshkian's win, but questions loom over how much the reformer can stem regional tensions from Israel's war on Gaza
3 min read
09 July, 2024
Masoud Pezeshkian beat hardliner Saeed Jalili in the presidential run off [Getty]

The recent electoral victory of Iranian presidential candidate and reformist Masoud Pezeshkian has seen a flurry of congratulations from Iran's Arab neighbours.

Pezeshkian, who won against hardline candidate and former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, was congratulated by a number of states in the Middle East in a sign of continued good relations following normalisation efforts from Iran's neighbours.

This includes Saudi Arabia, with Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman saying that the country was keen on "developing and deepening the relations between our countries and peoples".

Alongside Saudi Arabia, Gulf neighbours Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar all sent congratulatory messages to Pezeshkian whilst emphasising the development of ties between the two countries.

A new foreign policy with Pezeshkian?

During the Iranian presidential debates, Pezeshkian emphasised that Iran's foreign policy was based on "engagement with the world" and called for the beginning of negotiations on lifting sanctions.

However, a reformist President may not lead to major changes in the foreign policy trajectory of Iran, particularly as the President "has little say in setting Iran's regional policies" according to Ali Vaez, the Director of International Crisis Group's Iran Project.

Vaez told The New Arab that although there will be more voices advocating restraint in the administration, "there is a consensus among the political elite in Tehran that the de-escalation process with the Gulf Arab neighbours should continue, as should the support for the Axis of Resistance."

The so-called "Axis of Resistance" is Iran's regional alliance of states and non-state groups stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean and includes Lebanon's Hezbollah, Syria, and a host of Iraqi-based groups as well as Afghan and Pakistani militia.

"Whether those two priorities will come into direct tension will depend on the dynamics outside of Tehran's control, like what the Israeli government will choose to do next and whether the US would succeed in normalising relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel," Vaez said.

The view from Israel

Since 7 October Iran has been engaged, both directly and indirectly through its "Axis of Resistance", in escalating military engagements with Israel following the outbreak of Israel's war on Gaza.

According to Michael Horowitz, Le Beck International's Head of Intelligence and author of 'Hope and Despair: Israel's Future in the New Middle East', the view from Israel was centred on the low voter turnout and prospects of a nuclear agreement.

"In Israel, most of the commentary by officials has been focused on the low voter turnout, which is seen as a sign of low legitimacy and unrest among segments of the Iranian public," Horowitz said.

"Beyond that, I think one of the questions Israeli analysts are considering is whether Pezeshkian's election may give momentum to negotiations on the Iranian nuclear deal.

"Pezeshkian has stated very clearly that he was in favour of returning to the JCPOA, which may ease some of the regional tensions. But with limited power, Pezeshkian will also need buy-in from the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei - not to mention the possible election of Trump is looming large over the issue."

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