Saturday, February 27, 2021

Riyadh attacked as US military moots new bases in Saudi Arabia

The Gulf Arab states are already home to US military bases, but the presence of foreign troops near the holy cities would undoubtedly arouse dangerous passions.

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Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, came under a mysterious air attack on Saturday which the Biden State Department condemned as “an attempt to target civilians”.

It remains unclear if it was a missile or a drone attack, reports the Associated Press.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who have targeted Riyadh before, denied being involved, though Gulf Arab countries blamed the assault on them.

A previously unheard-of group called the “True Promise Brigade” said it carried out the attack with “drones of terror”, without offering evidence to support its claim.

Amid heightened tensions with Iran, the US military said on Tuesday it is currently exploring the possibility of developing naval and air bases in Saudi Arabia.

However, the announcement comes as Saudi-American relations remain strained by the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Even temporarily deploying American troops to bases in the Saudi Arabia, home to the Muslim holy city of Mecca, could reignite dangerous passions among extremists.

A spokesman for US Central Command, said the evaluation of possible sites was sparked by the September 2019 drone-and-missile attack on the Saudi oil industry which temporarily halved Saudi oil production and caused a spike in oil prices.

Riyadh and Washington blamed that attack on Iran. Tehran denied being involved, and Yemen’s Houthis claimed the assault, though the drones used appeared to be Iranian made.

The Gulf Arab states are already home to a number of American military bases.

US Central Command has a forward headquarters in Qatar. The US Navy 5th Fleet operates from Bahrain off Saudi Arabia’s coast. Kuwait hosts the US Army Central forward headquarters. Agreements also exist granting American forces rights to use bases in Oman under certain circumstances.

Former President Donald Trump deployed the first troops into Saudi Arabia since 9/11 over concerns about Iran. Around 2,500 American troops now man fighter jets and Patriot missile batteries at Prince Sultan Air Base southeast of Riyadh.

Any additional American bases will increase the suspicions of Iran’s theocratic rulers.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington remain high after Trump unilaterally withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018, leading to an escalating series of confrontations.

Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations, criticised the US plans, calling the presence of foreign troops in the Mideast “one of the main reasons for the chaotic situation and insecurity in our region”.

It is not clear what Biden’s relationship with Saudi Arabia will be. While campaigning, Biden referred to the kingdom as a “pariah” over the killing of Khashoggi.

However, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states remain top clients for American weaponry.

They also rely on the US Navy to ensure the flow of oil from their oilfields past the watchful eyes of Iranian warships, through the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf and out into the world.

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