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The New Arab

US, France compete to bolster Gulf security after Saudi oil attacks

Multiple oil tankers have been targeted in recent months [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 November, 2019

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The US and France have announced separate plans to bolster security in the Gulf after a string of attacks in the region.
The United States and France announced a move to boost Saudi Arabia’s radar systems following drone and missile attacks on the kingdom and its oil infrastructure, which Washington blames on Iran.

The US Central Command and France’s defence minister, whose countries have taken different approaches to dealing with Iran, announced plans to protect Gulf waters at the annual Bahrain security forum on Saturday.

General Kenneth McKenzie, who oversees US operations in the Middle East and South Asia said boosting military presence at Prince Sultan Air Base south of the kingdom’s capital Riyadh, as well as large bases in Qatar and Bahrain, would “complicate an adversary’s ability to target you”.

“We are working with the Saudis to increase the networking of their systems. That will make them better able to defend against this type of threats,” McKenzie added.

Meanwhile, France’s Defence Minister Florence Parly confirmed separate plans to send Riyadh “a robust package of advanced warning”, including radars, to confront low-altitude attacks.

“It will be in Saudi Arabia in the coming days so it will be operational very, very rapidly. But there is an analysis to be done in order to better identify how to fill the gap,” she later told reporters.

Parly had blamed the rise in Gulf tensions on the US’ gradual disengagement in the Middle East, which she said set off a dangerous chain of events.

"We’ve seen a deliberate gradual US disengagement," Parly said at the annual Manama Dialogue on regional security, adding it had been "on the cards for a while" but had become clearer. 

 

"When the mining of ships went unanswered, the drone got shot. When that in turn went unanswered, major oil facilities were bombed. Where does it stop? Where are the stabilisers?" she asked.

"The region is accustomed to the ebb and flow of US involvement. But this time it seemed more serious."

Parly said France’s efforts to form a European-led maritime mission could help “cool down tempers”. The initiative, which would bring together around 10 European and non-European governments, could start early next year pending parliamentary approval.

Most European governments have declined to participate in the naval coalition, fearful of undermining their efforts to save a landmark 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, which was badly weakened by Washington's withdrawal last year.

More than two months after the September attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Aramco oil facilities, the kingdom and its US ally have yet to provide evidence to substantiate blame on regional-arch rival Iran. 

Tehran has denied involvement in the strikes that halved the crude output of the world’s top oil exporter and prompted thousands of US troops and military hardware to land in Saudi Arabia.

The attack came after numerous assault on tankers in Gulf waters which exacerbated tensions in the region.

Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir, who compared the Iranian leadership to Hitler at the Manama conference, said his country was undergoing consultations with its allies to determine measures against Tehran.

No Iranian representatives attended the Manama conference.

So far, only Albania, Australia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom have joined the US-led International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC), which McKenzie said would “shine a spotlight on nefarious activity”.

Vessels will be escorted through the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic chokepoint at the head of the Gulf and the main artery for the transport of Middle East oil. 

Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, commander of US Naval Forces in the Middle East, said Operation Sentinel is a defensive measure aimed at protecting Gulf waters

Iran, which has denied any responsibility for the mystery attacks, has put forward its own proposals for boosting Gulf security that pointedly exclude outside powers.

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