Saudi-US relations have entered a new phase of cooling. US President Joe Biden is beginning a process of reassessment; possibly changing the relationship of the US with KSA after a Saudi-led coalition announced that it would reduce oil production. According to the White House, on Tuesday, October 11, 2022,
The possibility that OPEC Plus’ cut its oil production by two million barrels per day will increase oil prices in the US and around the world, which could hurt consumers during the winter, and a month before the midterm elections was a political blow to Biden. And this is what causes American resentment
Among the things being talked about in Congress is the reduction of US security cooperation with KSA, as Riyadh relies for its armament and protection of its airspace and nearby main shipping lanes, which are considered a conduit for Saudi and Gulf oil, on the US and its forces, which are heavily deployed in the Gulf region.
“In light of recent developments and the OPEC Plus decision about oil production, the president believes we should review the bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia and take a look to see if that relationship is where it needs to be,” White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday, reiterating Biden’s disappointment in the decision by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its partners.
“There’s going to be some consequences for what they’ve done, with Russia,” Biden said in an interview with CNN on October 11, adding, “I’m not going to get into what I’d consider and what I have in mind. But there will be — there will be consequences.”
The United States is betting on KSA’s security need, represented by the seriousness of the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen attacks, on Saudi territory using missiles and drones, as well as attacks on ships transiting the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab Strait.
Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ), Richard J. Durbin (Illinois) and Chris Murphy (Connecticut), have floated various changes to U.S.-Saudi relations, including limiting security cooperation; reducing arms sales; and removing the OPEC Plus exception from U.S. antitrust laws.
This study investigates the most important areas of security cooperation and coordination between the USA and KSA, with the possibility of damage in the event of an escalation of the crisis between the two successor countries, and how this will be reflected in the situation in KSA and the repercussions of the Yemen war.
Truce’s end in Yemen
After six months of relative calm, Yemen’s warring parties during October 2022 failed to renew the armistice agreement, as calls from the United Nations for an extension does not success
With Iran support for one side and the other is supported by KSA. The question here is whether the USA will support its ally in the Middle East after last week’s massive oil cuts. .
“The Houthis imposed at the last minute extreme and impossible demands that the parties could not reach, and the US is certainly continuing diplomatic efforts with the United Nations,” said U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking.
It is likely that the Iranians have asked the Houthis directly to help escalate matters in the region, because the Iranians are in a difficult political situation, as the Iranian regime is under immense pressure amid heated protests at home and may try to distance Gulf opponents by keeping them preoccupied with the Yemeni conflict.
The Houthis have already warned investors to stay away from KSA and the UAE because they are “risky” – a message seen as a direct threat that they are ready to strike again.
KSA has previously expressed to its U.S. ally about the attacks, criticizing the Biden administration over what it sees as a diminished U.S. security presence in the volatile Middle East. Iran would find no better choice than to leave the Houthis in Sanaa on the Saudi border to verify future Saudi behavior. According to analysts.
Although U.S. interest in Gulf security has declined over the past few years, the U.S. role remains the largest: the unwritten agreement between the two countries has been oil-for-security—specifically against Iranian hostility.
But now, as KSA defies the U.S. with its latest oil cuts by OPEC, the friendship between the two countries remains, but with the reluctance already present in congressional policies to increase military support for KSA, it remains unclear whether the U.S. will respond with swift support for its Middle East ally in the event of an outbreak of violence.
The Obama regime first supported the Saudi-led coalition in 2016, but support levels subsequently changed. KSA has enjoyed widespread support for its Yemen policy during the Trump regime. In late 2019, Biden promised to make the kingdom a pariah, and over a year later, reduced U.S. support for KSA’s offensive operations in Yemen, “including related arms sales.”
However, the Biden regime agreed last August and informed Congress of potentially billions of dollars in arms sales to both KSA and the UAE, citing defense against Houthi attacks as a legitimate cause for concern.
But it seems that KSA is still betting on the need for the US because it is in Washington’s interest to protect oil producers in the Middle East, especially as stalled nuclear talks with Iran and sanctions on Russian oil have led to higher prices. Analysts argue that it is not in America’s interest to reduce its military aid to KSA, because if they do, it will backfire on America more than many senators estimate.
KSA may hope that Russian pressure on Iran will help push the Houthis to agree to a new truce, especially since Russia will benefit from the OPEC Plus decision by increasing oil prices that may mitigate the impact of Western sanctions on it.
Safety of strategic navigation routes
Cooperation in the field of navigation protecting freedom is one of the most urgent issues for KSA, which transports the largest amount of its oil by sea, especially with the presence of continuous threats by Iran and its allies to navigation freedom, and recently the Western Fleet of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces began working for the first time with the International Coalition for the Security and Protection of Freedom of Maritime Navigation.
The Saudi Western Fleet based in the Red Sea now works with the International Coalition for the Security and Protection of Freedom of Maritime (IMSC) after it was limited to the Eastern Fleet. The Saudi Navy’s Western Fleet is contributing to coalition missions near the Bab al-Mandab Strait through patrols in support of HMS Al Jubail 828, according to the U.S. Navy. This work signals an expanded partnership between the multinational coalition and the Royal Saudi Navy, according to a statement by the US Navy.
Analysts say maritime security in the region’s vital waterways is a concern for GCC and Arab states amid global geopolitical tensions and the global energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine. The idea of the US-led naval military alliance was announced in June 2019 with the aim of maintaining the security of waterways in the waters of the Gulf and the Red Sea.
In November, after months of anticipation, the project known as “the International Alliance for the Security and Protection of Maritime Navigation and Ensuring the Safety of Sea Lanes”, was born with six countries with membership besides the United States, KSA, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Britain, Australia, and Albania.
The importance of the Bab al-Mandab Strait leading to the Suez Canal as one of the most important sea lanes in the world has increased, with the increasing importance of the Arabian Gulf oil, while 30 percent of the seaborne oil crosses the world from the Strait of Hormuz.
As of April 17, 2022, the US Navy launched a new “task force” with the participation of allied countries, which will patrol off Yemen, where Houthi rebels launched several attacks with booby-trapped boats, according to Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of the US Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, on April 13, 2022.
“This is strategically important water that calls for our attention. About 10% of the world’s shipping passes through the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean and the Red Sea,” the New York Times reported on May 20, 2021.
“Any destabilizing activity, including threats to trade and coastal infrastructure, can have profound global impacts, a sign of the region’s importance globally, especially with the outbreak of war in Ukraine and growing hostility between Russia and the US,” Cooper said.
The new task force joins three existing units in the Combined Maritime Forces: CTF-152, which patrols within the Persian Gulf; CTF-150, which operates outside the Persian Gulf and will now focus on the Gulf of Oman and the northern Arabian Sea; and CTF-151, which resists piracy across the entire Fifth Fleet area.
The CTF-153 will operate from the Suez Canal through the Bab al-Mandab Strait and to the Yemeni-Omani border and will tackle human trafficking and smuggling of legal items such as coal, illegal weapons, and drugs.
Despite the importance of the US role in securing the waters of the Persian Gulf, it is estimated that Israel, the US, the EU, and the Gulf states share common interests in continuing cooperation between all parties, especially as Russia strengthens its relations with the military council in Sudan, where Moscow is awaiting a possible deal for a naval base in the Red Sea region, according to Al-Monitor on April 15, 2022.
Arrangements are underway to establish a Russian military base in the Red Sea region, which is witnessing regional and international competition for military and economic security. With the world’s attention focused on the war in Ukraine, any step taken by Russia in any part of the world becomes the focus of great attention, according to the British newspaper (The Independent) on March 23, 2022. This calls for increasing the US presence and confirming Washington’s alliances with the Gulf, with the aim of not leaving the region to Russian influence.
The US intelligence bases in the Middle East confirmed that the Houthis launched boats full of explosive materials, in addition to laying mines in the global trade routes in the Red Sea, which pass from the Suez Canal to the Bab al-Mandab Strait, separating Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. According to the British newspaper (Telegraph) on April 14
It is unlikely that we will witness a significant decline in the field of maritime security cooperation between the US and KSA, especially since cooperation is no longer limited to KSA, the UAE, and the US, but there are other countries such as Israel and Western countries that have become partners in the coalition, especially after Israel was transferred on January 15, 2021, from the area of operations of the European Command of the US forces to the area of operations of the Central Command stationed in the Arabian Gulf.
The US does not plan to make any significant changes to the number of U.S. troops stationed in KSA. According to the Wall Street Journal on October 14, 2022, citing US officials
The relationship between Washington and Riyadh has been critical to U.S. interests in the Middle East, officials said, adding that the US is determined to continue its strategic cooperation with KSA, which is a key to fighting Iran. There are up to 3,000 U.S. troops in KSA who train Saudi forces and advise them on their military operations, especially since damaging the military relationship could make confronting Iran, improving Saudi-Israeli relations, and resolving other regional issues more difficult.
Exporting American weapons to KSA
The export of US weapons to KSA is one of the most vulnerable files affected by the decline in political relations, because this file is linked to the decisions of Congress and legislative authorities, as it does not represent a maximum security issue for the US, compared to the presence of US forces in the Arabian Gulf, for example, especially since the US administration is forced to take a reaction to the Saudi position before the mid-term legislative elections.
Therefore, there is believed to be some regression in defense cooperation between Washington and Riyadh, as the administration canceled its meeting in a U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council working group on Iran, which was scheduled for Oct. 17, U.S. officials said The meeting was aimed at focusing on defense integration among regional allies, particularly missile defense..
The US may also slow annual arms sales to Riyadh to send a message of displeasure, the officials said. Representative Ro Khanna called on President Biden to warn KSA that he would work with Congress to pass a ban on the supply of air parts to the Saudi Special Air Force.
For decades, the Saudi armed forces have relied on U.S. weapons sales, training, and maintenance support. According to a report by the Congressional Research Service of the legislature
Congress has historically supported U.S. arms sales to Gulf, including KSA, as a way to improve cooperation, reduce the need for the US, deter Iran, and support U.S. industry. “KSA was the largest customer of the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program (FMS), with about $100 billion in active sales.” The US State Department says in a report issued last May
FMS is a U.S. government program that aims to organize the “transfer of defense materials, services, and training to our international partners and organizations,” according to the Pentagon.
Through this program, the US supported the Saudi Ministry of Defense, the National Guard, and the Ministry of Interior. The congressional report notes that hundreds of U.S. military personnel are in the kingdom to support training and other programs at the Interior Department and other security forces.
“The US is committed to providing the Saudi armed forces with the equipment, training, and additional support needed to protect the kingdom and the region from the destabilizing effects of terrorism and counter Iranian influence and other threats.” The ministry said
Senator Bob Menendez’s stance calling for scaling back defense cooperation is one of the similar stances issued by members of Congress. But what makes Menendez’s position all the more important is that it comes from the head of the committee, which gives the green light to any arms sales abroad. KSA imports 70 % of the weapons through the US, according to Senator Ro Khanna.
First of all:
It is unlikely that Saudi-American relations will witness dramatic transformations, especially in the security cooperation field, because the interest of the US requires continued coordination in many files such as combating terrorism and Saudi investments, and relations between the two countries have already gone through more tense stations, but this did not lead to the suspension of defense cooperation between Riyadh and Washington.
The US benefits from arms deals with KSA and gets large profits, and Washington risks losing profitable deals if it stops it with the Kingdom, especially since may resort to other suppliers such as Russia, China and European countries, which the US does not want.
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