Saudi Arabia will replace two US missile defense batteries at oil sites and will still be able to defend itself from any Iranian aggression, according to experts in the field who said the move did not affect strong US-Saudi relations, Al Arabiya English reported.
The US has removed two of its four Patriot anti-missile units from the Kingdom, leaving two more at Prince Sultan airbase. The move is part of a reorganization of its missile defense capabilities in the region, with two Patriot units sent to Iraq and two others withdrawn back to the US.
Ali Shihabi, founder of the Arabia Foundation, told Al Arabiya English: “The removal is only of two Patriot batteries that were brought to protect two squadrons of American fighters that are being rotated out, so it may not be signal of much.”
The Kingdom is well placed to defend itself from any aggression regardless of the redeployment of the anti-missile units, added Dr. Hesham Alghannam, a Saudi Arabian political scientist and senior research fellow at the Gulf Research Center.
Some analysts suggested the decision was a sign of the US revising its stance toward the Kingdom due to differences on oil policy. However, experts on US-Saudi relations disagreed.
Alghannam said such analysis “ignores the fact that the Kingdom and Russia have reached an agreement to cut oil production starting from May, an agreement that was brokered by President Trump in early April.”
“The US understands that saving its oil shale companies from bankruptcy does not depend only on cutting Aramco’s plus production, but on reviving the world’s economy that has been hit hard by the outbreak of COVID-19,” Alghannam told Al Arabiya English.
A US Defense Department Official told AFP that the missiles were only ever meant to be in Saudi Arabia temporarily, following their initial deployment in response to Iranian attacks against Saudi Aramco oil facilities in September 2019.
The two US Patriot missiles would be replaced by the Kingdom’s Patriot PAC-3 hit-to-kill missile, according to an unnamed US military official cited by Bloomberg.
The Kingdom also has 40-60 CSS2 medium-range ballistic missiles and six legions of Patriot missiles to defend itself from foreign aggression.
“There are 30 Patriot PAC-3 hit-to-kill in the Kingdom, and they managed in the last few years to shoot down 311 ballistic missiles coming from Yemen and 343 drones. Coupled with THAAD anti-ballistic missile defense system, which the US is keeping, the Kingdom’s oil fields, maritime shores, and its space are well protected,” Alghannam said.
Washington’s commitment to the security of its Arabian Gulf allies is unchanged despite what appears to be a shift in force posture in the region, US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told CNBC on Saturday.
“Our mission has not at all changed. We’re standing with our partners and our allies in the region. We’re doing everything we can to protect American interests. We’re going to continue working with the Saudis, the Emiratis, all of our partners in the region,” he said.
US President Donald Trump acknowledged the redeployment, but said it was not based on Saudi Arabia and gave few other details.
“We’re making a lot of moves, in the Middle East and elsewhere. We’re doing a lot of things all over the world militarily. This has nothing to do with Saudi Arabia. This has to do with other countries, frankly, much more,” Trump said when asked about the redeployment on Thursday.
Late on Friday, Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz spoke on the phone. The two leaders reaffirmed the strong ties and ongoing defense partnership between Riyadh and Washington.