After nearly two and a half years in power and the floundering approach through which he managed relations with the Gulf region, US President Joe Biden seeks to focus the remainder of his term on reshaping relations with the Gulf region on a new basis, the latest step in this direction was the conclusion of a strategic cooperation agreement with Bahrain in the middle of this month, which includes Washington's commitment to provide assistance to Manama in the event of an imminent security threat.

Although this is the first agreement of its kind concluded by the United States with an Arab country, it does not rise to the level of security guarantees similar to Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty (NATO). Importantly, however, it reflects the United States' desire to assert its commitment to the security of the Gulf region and could become a broader model for reshaping U.S.-Gulf relations.

The fact that the agreement came amid Washington's negotiations with Riyadh over security guarantees and allowing U.S. companies to participate in the Saudi civil nuclear program in exchange for Saudi Arabia joining peace agreements with Israel generally shows a partial change in the U.S. approach to the future of its relations with the Gulf region. In light of the uncertainty prevailing in the Gulf about the future of U.S. security commitment in the region, which has increased under Biden, and the tendency of Gulf states to diversify their foreign partnerships, the agreement with Bahrain may help dispel these doubts and inject new blood into the U.S.-Gulf partnership.

Although the new regional environment that has emerged in the Middle East over the past three years tends toward regional de-escalation and has created real prospects for ending the historical hostility between Saudi Arabia and Iran, its trajectories remain uncertain.

Therefore, the timing of the agreement is intended first to show that the United States remains committed to continuing its role as a primary custodian of Gulf security. Second, to motivate other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, to consider the benefits of re-deepening their security engagement with the United States and moving away from developing partnerships with rival global powers, such as China. However, this agreement, and potential future agreements with other Gulf states, should not be seen as showing a radical change in the United States' approach to its role in the Middle East in the long term, but rather aimed primarily at managing the process of loosening engagement with the region in a way that does not threaten strategic partnerships with the Arab Gulf states and enhances the protection of U.S. interests in the region.

The key word in the U.S. shift toward a stronger commitment to Gulf security lies in Washington's growing concern that China is exploiting the decline in U.S.-Gulf relations to bolster its presence in the region. In addition, the new phase of geopolitical competition between major powers confirmed that the continued American presence in the Gulf region is a strategic need for the United States, especially in light of the importance that the Gulf gained in global energy policies after the Russian-Ukrainian war.

The new framework that Washington seeks to draw in reshaping its relations with the main powers in the Middle East, especially the Gulf, aims to prevent rival world powers from filling the vacuum created by the decline of the United States, while at the same time hindering the American trend towards reducing its military presence in the Middle East.

In this context, this framework is based on the concept of deterrence, which is supposed to be a means of imposing costs on Iran should it re-adopt regional policies that threaten the security and stability of the Gulf, while at the same time helping the United States to sustainably reduce its military presence in the region.

Although the new regional environment that has emerged in the Middle East over the past three years tends toward regional de-escalation and has created real prospects for ending the historical hostility between Saudi Arabia and Iran, its trajectories remain uncertain. Despite mutual positive intentions, the chances of long-term stability in the relationship between Riyadh and Tehran remain slim, both due to the complex regional circumstances surrounding that path, as well as the growing relations between Israel and some Gulf states.

The latter could lead to the end of the lull period if Saudi Arabia decides to proceed with the normalization project with Israel. In addition, the continued problem of Iran's nuclear program—especially in light of the diminishing chances of reviving the nuclear deal and the growing risks of the Iran-Israel conflict—makes current regional stability fragile and potentially collapsing; this represents a major challenge for the United States in its quest to ensure regional stability that will help it reduce its military presence in the region.

The U.S.-Bahrain agreement may encourage other Gulf states to conclude similar agreements in the future, but such an agreement is unlikely to push the Gulf states back to over-reliance on the United States for security in particular. This is because Washington shows a clear tendency to reduce its military presence in the region, rather than its willingness to deepen or even maintain this presence in order to ensure the security of the Gulf region.

While this and other potential agreements may contribute to confidence between Washington and its Gulf allies, they will not change the fact that the Gulf states have already begun implementing significant changes in their foreign policies over the past years. These countries have sought to build multiple partnerships as a hedge, and are now dealing with a new Middle East where the United States will not be as influential as it once was.