WASHINGTON, Sept 20 (Reuters) – Things are going to start to escalate quickly in the middle east as U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday approved sending American troops to bolster Saudi Arabia’s air and missile defenses after the largest-ever attack on the kingdom’s oil facilities, which Washington has squarely blamed on Iran. There seems to be overwhelming agreement in the rest of the world that the Iranians are responsible for the attack.
Relations between the United States and Iran have deteriorated sharply since Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear accord last year and reimposed sanctions on its oil exports. The agreement that was set up between Iran and the Obama admin and Hillary Clinton. President Trump has been very vocal since his campaign days that he felt the deal was very bad for the US and the middle east.
The Pentagon said the deployment would involve a moderate number of troops – not numbering thousands – and would be primarily defensive in nature. It also detailed plans to expedite delivery of military equipment to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Although the troops in the region will be more of a message than used to actually battle against Iran. It is a signal to Iran that we are part of the situation now and do not mess with our interests and allies.
For months, Iranian officials issued veiled threats, saying that if Tehran were blocked from exporting oil, other countries would not be able to do so either. Iran has been pushing the envelope diplomatically for a few months now. This is by far the biggest thumb on the nose they have done on some time.
Reuters has previously reported that the Pentagon was considering sending anti-missile batteries, drones and more fighter jets. The United States is also considering keeping an aircraft carrier in the region indefinitely. These are more to stop any further attacks on Saudi Soil and not used as offensive weapons.
“In response to the kingdom’s request, the president has approved the deployment of U.S. forces, which will be defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defense, We will also work to accelerate the delivery of military equipment to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to enhance their ability to defend themselves. ”U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said at a news briefing.
The Pentagon’s late Friday announcement appeared to close the door to any imminent decision to wage retaliatory strikes against Iran following the attack, which rattled global markets and exposed major gaps in Saudi Arabia’s air defenses.
Trump said earlier on Friday that he believed his military restraint so far showed “strength,” as he instead imposed another round of economic sanctions on Tehran. President Trump has never been to much into relations with Iran. He has been very much tired of their antics. That is why he was so vocal about the nuke deal with the Obama admin.
Because the easiest thing I could do, ‘Okay, go ahead. Knock out 15 different major things in Iran.’ … But I’m not looking to do that if I can”Trump at the White House.
But the deployment could further aggravate Iran, which has responded to previous U.S. troop deployments this year with apprehension. It denies responsibility for the attack on Saudi Arabia.
Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which has been battling a Saudi-led military coalition that includes the UAE, has claimed responsibility for the strikes. This is an organization that is sponsored by Iran’s government and is a very radical group.
However, Iran has denied any role in a series of attacks in recent months, including bombings of tankers in the Gulf and strikes claimed by the Houthis. This is the Iranian government having plausible deniability.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have fingered southwest Iran as the staging ground for the attack, an assessment based at least in part on still-classified imagery showing Iran appearing to prepare an aerial strike.
They have dismissed Houthi claims that the attacks originated in Yemen. This is par for the course in this area. It is always one group that is tied to a radical government that blames the other. It is a technique to send doubt to the people that want to believe that they are telling the truth. They have been doing this for centuries to cloud the truth.
One of the officials told Reuters the strike may have been authorized by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This is a more likely the case. This is what most people in the region believes.
The United States is wary of getting dragged into another conflict in the Middle East. It has troops positioned in Syria and Iraq, two countries where Iranian influence is strong and Iran-backed forces operate openly. There is no doubt the US has been a great influence in the middle east. Becoming major players after the Camp David Accords all the way back in the Carter admin.
U.S. officials fear Iran’s proxies might attempt to strike American troops there, something that could easily trigger a broader regional conflict.
Saudi Arabia has said it was attacked by a total of 25 drones and missiles, including Iranian Delta Wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and “Ya Ali” cruise missiles.
U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said officials were still hammering out the best array of capabilities to defend Saudi Arabia, noting the difficulty combating a swarm of drones.
“No single system is going to be able to defend against a threat like that, but a layered system of defensive capabilities would mitigate the risk of swarms of drones or other attacks that may come from Iran,” Dunford said. (Reporting by Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali, Eric Beech and Mohammad Zargham Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Cynthia Osterman)
The United States is deploying military forces to the Middle East after Saturday’s drone attacks on major oil sites in Saudi Arabia that the administration of President Donald Trump has blamed on Iran.
“The president has approved the deployment of U.S. forces which will be defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defense,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said at a news conference Friday.
Answering reporters’ questions about the deployment, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the troop deployment as “modest” and “not thousands.”
Esper said troops would be primarily focused on air and missile defenses. This again is a defensive position designed to stop further attacks on Saudi soil.
The United States will also accelerate shipment of military hardware to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, he said.
The defense secretary said the troop deployment to those nations is happening as Iran has engaged in a “significant escalation of violence” in the region.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that while Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the Saudi oil-site attack, the “fingerprints” of Tehran’s ayatollah were evident in the drone strikes.
Esper on Friday took that line of thinking further, saying, “The weapons used in the Iranian attack were Iranian produced and were not launched from Yemen as was initially claimed.”
However, he emphasized that Saudi Arabia is leading the investigation into the attack. “We will keep them in the lead with regard to the forensics, so we need to let that play out, let the evidence play out,” Esper said.
The troop buildup in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates supplements sanctions against the Iranian banking system.
On Friday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told reporters the Central Bank of Iran and the country’s sovereign wealth fund, the National Development Fund, “will be cut off from our banking system.”
Esper expressed hope that the military show of force would “prevent further escalation.”
“As the president has made clear, the United States does not seek conflict with Iran,” Esper said. “That said we have many other military options available should they be necessary.”
Saudi Arabia requested what the secretary described as “extra defensive support,” he said, and it will “send a clear message that the United States supports our partners in the region.”
The move was also made with commerce in mind, as the attack included as a target the world’s largest oil processing facility.
The extra troops would help “ensure the support free flow or resources necessary to support the global economy,” Esper said.