Saudi, US militaries prepare for contingencies in the Gulf

US forces will once again be based at the Prince Sultan Airbase, the same base that hosted them until 2003, reflecting the changed dynamics on the ground since then.
Saturday 27/07/2019
Map locating Prince Sultan Airbase, where US troops will return for the first time since 2003. (AFP)
Map locating Prince Sultan Airbase, where US troops will return for the first time since 2003. (AFP)

LONDON - Escalating threats posed by Iran’s aggressive moves are being taken seriously in the Gulf region, particularly in Saudi Arabia, which is hosting US troops for the first time since 2003.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud approved allowing US forces in the kingdom “to increase joint efforts to bolster security and stability and to guarantee peace in the region,” Asharq al-Awsat reported July 20.

An unidentified Saudi Defence Ministry official told Asharq al-Awsat, which is known to reflect official Saudi policy, the arrival of US forces is “a practical, strongly worded message to the Iranian regime that any nihilistic attempt to take advantage of regional tensions will be faced with the necessary forces to deter it and its militias.”

A statement by US Air Forces Central Command on the 500-troop deployment said: “This movement of forces provides an additional deterrent and ensures our ability to

defend our forces and interests in the region from emergent, credible threats.”

Tehran has ratcheted up tensions, particularly in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most important shipping routes.

For Saudi Arabia, Iran’s antagonistic behaviour could have serious economic repercussions if the kingdom’s global oil shipments were disrupted. In Yemen, the Houthi militia, supported by Iran, intensified the threat to international navigation in the Red Sea and the Strait of Hormuz.

US and Saudi troops recently completed an annual military drill in northern Saudi Arabia, with maritime threats factoring heavily. Saudi military representatives were invited to observe the joint US, Egyptian and Emirati military exercises that began July 22 in the Red Sea.

US forces will be based at the Prince Sultan Airbase, south of Riyadh, the same installation that had hosted them until 2003.

After a crackdown on al-Qaeda affiliate in Saudi Arabia, and with the kingdom’s religious establishment embracing a more moderate stance, the hosting of US troops is seen through a different lens than in 2003 when US troops withdrew from Saudi Arabia.

Saudi analyst Abdullah al-Otaibi wrote that the invitation by King Salman was a historic and decisive step, stemming from two decades of “political turmoil and major disruptions to the balance of powers in the region.”

Otaibi cited Iranian and Turkish proxies in the region as well as tensions in the Gulf as reasons for the decision.

US officials confirmed that, besides the 500 US military personnel to be stationed in the kingdom, it had deployed a Patriot air defence battery at Prince Sultan Airbase.