US Military Bases Are Being Deactivated In The Persian Gulf

To prevent tensions between Iran and Arab governments, US military bases are being deactivated in the Persian Gulf, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

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The cornerstone of US power projection in West Asia is its array of military sites, which are ideally situated in the Persian Gulf. The multi-front battle raging in the region has accelerated the movement in geopolitical alliances toward multipolarity, raising doubts about the future of these crucial sites.

These changes are being expedited by the aftermath of Israel’s ruthless military attack on Gaza and the US government’s unwavering support for it. Once unwavering in their support of Washington, longtime friends like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are increasingly taking more autonomous paths and cautiously avoiding entanglements that can spark larger confrontations, especially with Iran and its supporters in the Axis of Resistance.

According to Al Mayadeen News, the Houthis have knocked out several undersea internet cables, causing significant damage, particularly in the Gulf countries and India.

The strong underpinnings of long-standing alliances are slowly being undermined by this recalibration as well as the coordinated efforts of the Persian Gulf states toward economic diversification beyond oil.

The question at hand is how these changes will impact American military presence in the area and their capacity to conduct operations from their current sites.

US strategic outreach 

A network of strategically important Defense Cooperation Agreements (DCAs) signed with each host nation forms the foundation of the US military’s posture in the Persian Gulf. The conditions of military cooperation are outlined in these accords, which divide governments into two groups: those classified as major non-NATO allies (MNNA) and those that are not.

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The breadth and depth of military cooperation, as well as its strategic responsibilities and advantages, are informed by this classification. Nineteen nations around the world—Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Morocco, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Qatar, South Korea, Thailand, and Tunisia—are officially recognized as MNNAs by the US State Department.

A nation’s strategic partnership with Washington is acknowledged significantly when it obtains MNNA status under US law, which opens up several advantages in military trade and security cooperation.

This esteemed title represents more than just improved military and commercial ties; it also reflects the US’s strong regard and acknowledgment of its long-standing ties to these nations. It’s important to understand that the MNNA designation does not automatically include any security promises from Washington, even with the rights that come with it.

These benefits include the ability to install US-owned War Reserve Stockpiles on the territory of an ally, be eligible to borrow supplies for research and development, and possibly even have reciprocal training arrangements.

Additionally, MNNA nations have a preference when it comes to getting Excess Defense Articles and might be given consideration when buying ammunition made of depleted uranium. These states can collaborate with the US on defense R&D initiatives, which will enable their companies to bid on Department of Defense contracts for maintenance and overhaul services rendered outside of the US.

Support for purchasing explosives detecting equipment and taking part in counterterrorism programs through the Department of State’s Technical Support Working Group are also included in this.

Pushback in the Persian Gulf

Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar are the only Persian Gulf states possessing MNNA status; Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman do not. These classifications are consistent with the strategic presence of the US military in the area.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have taken stances on support for US military activities in the Persian Gulf that are different from those of other Persian Gulf governments in response to the attacks launched by Hamas on October 7, the Al-Aqsa Flood, and later events in West Asia.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two nations that primarily rely on the US for security, have been forced to look at alternate security arrangements due to the likelihood that the US may move some of its military forces to the Asia-Pacific area in an effort to offset China’s growing global clout.

As a result of the shift from a unipolar to a multipolar global order and growing interest in the Persian Gulf from China and Russia, the political and economic landscape in the region has changed dramatically.

Above all, though, given the Gaza battle and its regional fallout, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi seem most worried about the likelihood that US military actions in West Asia may turn into a protracted battle involving Iran.

An excellent example of this is the de facto non-participation of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Operation Prosperity Guardian (OPG), the US-led naval coalition that was established in December 2023 in response to Yemeni attacks on Israeli-linked shipping in the Red Sea. Another example is the refusal of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to permit the use of US bases within their borders for Operation Poseidon Archer, a joint US-UK military operation that targets Yemeni territories governed by the Ansarallah-aligned government.

‘Not from our bases’

According to Politico, the United Arab Emirates has placed limitations on the Pentagon’s capacity to carry out counterattack attacks on Iran’s neighbors. To prevent tensions between Iran and the Arab governments of the Persian Gulf from rising, the US does not launch strike missions utilizing fighter jets from these facilities.

At Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia and Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, there are almost 2,700 and 3,500 US military personnel stationed, respectively. The latter houses a sizable force of US aircraft that take part in regional operations and also functions as the Gulf Air Warfare Center. This comprises the MQ-9 Reapers and other fighter jets as well as reconnaissance drones.

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US President Joe Biden has approved many airstrikes and missile operations against rebel groups in West Asia that are backed by Iran in recent weeks. Since last October, groups loyal to Iran have used drones, rockets, and missiles to launch 170 strikes on US personnel stationed primarily in Iraq and Syria in an attempt to drive out US military presence in the area.

Three US servicemen have died as a result of these attacks to date, and many more have been injured. Simultaneously, the military of Yemen, backed by Ansarallah, is said to have carried out 51 operations against seafaring ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, an increase in assaults since the campaign started on November 19.

Unsustainable strategies 

But Washington cannot continue to support this US military strategy in the long run. After an eight-year war that severely damaged their economy, fired missiles into their major cities, and targeted targets for energy infrastructure, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are attempting to find a solution with Yemen.

In a February 19 interview with France 24, the Saudi Foreign Minister said that “a peace deal between the government of Yemen and the Houthis was close, and that Riyadh would support it.”

Given these circumstances, it is improbable that the US will take any steps that might rekindle hostilities between Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and Sanaa. However, it will be expensive and difficult for the Americans to have an aircraft carrier group in place off the coast of Yemen for Operation Poseidon Archer and airstrikes against Iranian targets.

Washington’s unilateral veto of UN Security Council resolutions for a Gaza ceasefire, as well as its unconditional military and political support for Israel despite the tens of thousands of deaths of women and children in Gaza, have stoked anti-US sentiment on the Arab street, which today overwhelmingly rejects normalization deals with Tel Aviv. This is true even though US bases with MNNA status remain vital in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar.

China is currently keeping a low profile while watching the US’s influence decline in West Asia. It may be holding out for the right opportunity to work with Moscow to initiate diplomatic efforts to end the Israel-Palestine conflict without US meddling.

It wouldn’t be the first time the emerging multipolar powers stole Washington’s thunder in the Persian Gulf: the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, mediated by Beijing in March 2023, not only caught the US off guard but also showed neighboring governments that diplomacy might succeed even in the absence of the US.

There is no doubt that US military and diplomatic strategy will be impacted by the changes taking place in the Persian Gulf. However, turning off US bases when American forces are engaged in an ongoing regional conflict is a completely new development.

When all is said and done, what good will these multibillion-dollar military outposts serve when they are unable to deploy US fighter jets or missiles?

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