The U.S. is to remove its Patriot anti-missile systems from Saudi Arabia, the Wall Street Journal reported on May 7th.
According to the outlet, four Patriot batteries that are providing protection of ground assets of Saudi Arabian oil facilities are to be removed from the Kingdom.
Dozens of military personnel deployed along with the batteries will also be reassigned, according to unnamed officials.
Two squadrons of US fighter jets already left the region, and US officials are presumably also considering a reduction of US Navy presence in the Persian Gulf.
This could be a result of one of two things, or a cumulative result of both:
- The US is interested in reducing tensions with Iran, similarly to how tensions between the two sides in Iraq have been reduced in recent months. It could mean that the US has estimated that Iran’s capabilities in the region are weakened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It could also mean that the US has deemed it necessary to reduce its presence in order to reduce tensions and the risk of, even accidentally, causing a provocation that could have destructive consequences.
- Saudi Arabia began an crude oil price war with Russia, then, even when it was “resolved” by concluding a deal to reduce output, Riyadh continues flooding the market with discounted oil, and sending oil tankers to the US overloading its storage capacity and leading to an unseen crash of the oil market, with prices falling into the negative. Many US oil firms are facing bankruptcy, and US politicians from President Donald Trump on down are under pressure to help curtail imports from the kingdom. Reportedly, according to Reuters, Trump told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in early April that unless the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries started cutting oil production, he would be powerless to stop lawmakers from passing legislation to withdraw US troops from the kingdom.
Oil prices surged 11% on May 7th after Saudi Arabia announced that it would raise prices to boost the commodity’s recovery.
Additionally, the Patriot defense batteries were active when in September 2019, a drone attack damaged Saudi Aramco’s oil infrastructure, causing unclear damages.
As such, it is unclear that the Patriot batteries were actually effective at all, present or not.
A portion of the military hardware now being removed from Saudi Arabia was deployed last September following a series of attacks on Saudi oil facilities. At a news conference at the time announcing the move, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the move was needed to protect critical Saudi oil infrastructure, and called on other nations to condemn the attacks.
“The Iranian regime is waging a deliberate campaign to destabilize the Middle East and impose costs on the international economy,” Esper said.
Thus, if the reports are all true, either the threat has passed, or there’s another factor.
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