The US is removing important military assets that were put in place to counter a potential threat from Iran. This brings a tentative end to a major military buildup in the area.
According to US military officials cited in a Wall Street Journal exclusive, the US will remove two of its Patriot antimissile systems from Saudi Arabia along with two other Patriot systems in other parts of the Middle East. The cutting-edge antimissile systems were deployed after Iran launched a series of attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities last year. The US will also recall Troops and other military assets in what appears to be a widespread de-escalation of its military presence in the region.
Two squadrons of U.S. fighter jets have also been recalled from the area, according to reports. The Wall Street Journal also reports that U.S. officials are also considering a possible strategic reduction of the US Navy’s assets in the Persian Gulf. So far, Saudi Arabia hasn’t commented publicly on the American withdrawal.
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U.S. Not Abandoning Allies
The U.S. is removing Patriot antimissile systems from Saudi Arabia and is considering reductions to other military capabilities, marking the end, for now, of a large-scale military buildup to counter Iran, according to U.S. officials.
— The Cavell Group (@TCG_CrisisRisks) May 7, 2020
Saudi Arabia hasn’t commented publicly on the withdrawal of American forces so far. However, a statement from the Pentagon emphasized that the US is not abandoning its ally. Pentagon officials said they routinely shuffle their regional assets. This can rapidly redeploy forces on short notice if tensions began to escalate.
Navy Commander Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. plans to continue pursuing a long-term strategy to bolster its air defenses in the region. In a statement published this morning, Cmdr. Roberston said, “The U.S.-Saudi defense partnership is longstanding and encompasses a range of cooperation to include counterterrorism, maritime security, and air defense.”
The assets originally served to counter a rising threat from Iranian forces in the area. Last year, Iranian-backed forces launched a series of attacks on oil infrastructure and shipping channels in the region. One rocket attack on a major Saudi Arabian oil refinery knocked roughly half of the world’s oil supply offline in a matter of minutes. Iranian forces also attacked and seized two British tankers attempting to pass through the Strait of Hormuz, a major bottleneck for international oil traffic. The tensions between Iran and the western powers climaxed in January. It peaked when a U.S. drone strike killed an Iranian general traveling near Baghdad International Airport.
U.S. Military Presence in the Middle East
As the tensions escalated, the US deployed a major military presence in the Middle East to counter the Iranian threat. However, the withdrawal of the Patriot systems and other assets indicates that the buildup is coming to an end. The US began withdrawing assets after assessments of Iran’s military readiness concluded that the country doesn’t pose an immediate threat. Pentagon planners believe that the military resources should go to other efforts, like countering Chinese military influence in Asia.
Economic sanctions crippled Iran’s economy and a devastating coronavirus outbreak caused it to suffer more. The pandemic has resulted in 104,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 6,000 Iranian deaths. Some reports indicate that the outbreak could also reignite civil unrest in the country.
Iran has its hands full right now. Even if Tehran could summon up the resources needed to launch an attack, it seems unlikely that the Iranians would want to provoke western military action while the country is in such a state of disarray.