United States and the Arab Gulf: Weapons and new strategies

Paper’s Summary (abstract):

This papers provides an overview of the US policies towards the middle east, and the surrounding mystery that confuses its allies and adversaries in the region, and displays Saudi Arabia and the Gulf’s response toward it, especially the part related to the current Gulf tendency to adopt new military and political strategies, which the paper believe that it is a manifestation of the Gulf attempt to fill the void left by US absence in the direct engagement in the region’s conflict. Reaching the conclusion that the current course of international conflict does not represent a decline in US strategies as much as it establishes a new era in which the United States remains the major beneficiary.


The word “ambiguity” seems to apply as an inclusive title for all the different courses where all the Middle East crisis and raging wars in recent years have been taking place, and whose silhouette does not reveal the dividing lines between warring and allied camps, nor the points of convergence and dissonance to form a clear milestones for the goals and the motives of the compound conflict taking place across the middle east.

The ambiguity dominating the scene created a confusion that impacted the attitudes and acts of all the parties: their political and even their military moves in the confrontation fields, each party’s anxious and incomplete perceptions of its role and acts in the region, thus reflecting a deficiency expressed through the half-positions and half-rivalry and alliances situation among all the parties involved in these conflicts.

It can be said that the state of wandering prevailing in the region has been launched and executed concurrently with the strategic shift in the US foreign policy in the Middle East and their strategies in approaching the region’s burning issues. 

US withdrawal from the clash’s interface and from dealing openly and directly with these issues, waiving the first leader’s role in addressing the region’s files, and seeking to set new rules of engagement as one of other partner-parties that most engage with the same level of responsibility when dealing with the region’s conflict, in addition to the declared preparedness for joint work with the different actors, and the new facts that may result from the ongoing interactions, along with the panic it provoked among its partner and the suspicion among its rivals , have created a void state that middle eastern countries was not able to fill it under its created a vacuum state that the Middle Eastern countries were not able to fill by using their traditional approaches. And besides pushing these countries into developing new strategies, it was an open invitation for distant parties to come and work for ministering the region before its total collapse.

Syria and Yemen, an opening chapter for a new era: 

Throughout the first years of the Syrian war, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf countries have been waiting patiently for a turning point in the ambiguous American approach and its reserved material engagement in this crisis that would resolve the war in favor of the regional coalition led by Saudi Arabia. However, the US refrained from direct military involvement in the war and from going along with Saudi Arabia’s enthusiasm for pushing the confrontation into the military resolution option, that the latter assume possible, this pushed the Saudis and their allies to take the lead in expanding and deepening the scope of their involvement in the Syrian quagmire, resorting to whatever alternative options to fill, even if only partially, the shortfall caused by the US absence.

An involvement ranging from an incubation which evolved into a guardianship of Assad abroad opposition, turning them into some sort of subsidiary extensions of Saudi’s foreign policy in the Syrian case, and the explicit military and financial support for various military formation operating over the Syrian territories, all the way to the Saudi Kingdom’s declaration of its readiness to send Saudi troops as part of a Military coalition including other parties to fight in the Syrian battle fronts. In a desperate attempt to drag the Us it into the fight, Saudi Arabia insisted that it will be under US leadership.

The Gulf and Saudi declaration of their intention of sending military forces to Syria came months after the war declared by the coalition led by Saudi Arabia on Yemen. Despite the recklessness and the floundering that surrounded Yemen’s recent war according to observers, however, it embodied materially the approach pursued by Saudi Arabia and Other Gulf state of their political behavior and initiatives that they are willing to make the region undergo in light of their US ally reluctance from taking in charge what the Gulf countries believe is the level of responsibility and obligation required under their alliance

This War and in spite of all its political connotations was, in the historical sense, the first time that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries deliberately engage in a military showdown where these countries rely on their own military potentials; and despite the faltering campaigns and the successive field failures the coalition’ forces endured in face of the Houthis and their Allies and the consequent Saudi pause to re-evaluate their performance, which included repetitive announcements of inadequate and occasionally farcical collation plan, advertising campaigns in the Media spinning in the coalition’s orbit urging what they believe were defeatist allies and targeting Egypt in particular. However, the international parties concerned in the course of war, including Iran and its alliance in Yemen and the region in general, were surprised by the Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia’s steadfastness and persistence to move forward in the war there, which appeared as a qualitative alteration in the perceptions of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf country (especially UAE) on how to address the challenges of their regional-space and the functional role of their institutions, financial and military capabilities in fulfilling this perceptions. 

To weapons:

The emerging military and security strategies among the Saudi leaders and the Emirati leaders can be partially traced as the compensation to the power imbalance caused by the current American policy to avoid engaging in any of the flaming Middle eastern fronts, and to adapt with the consequences of the American withdrawing policy such as the defensive and military vacuum state after being used for decades by the Gulf regimes to defend them in face of external and domestic threats. Moreover this strategies are in line with the re-positioning plans and policies of the United States in the region while preserving its prior advantages. 

For decades, arm deals between Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries and the United States were considered as a form of royalties paid for the latter, and through which The Gulf Kingdoms and Emirates pay astronomical fees in exchange for the formal possession of weapon arsenals which don’t have any real value in term of the capacity or the validity for military use, or having the decision to actually use them. In return the United State secures the Gulf dynasties in face of any threats. 

But the winds of changes that hit the Middle East in the last five years swept away the old formulation governing the relationships between the Gulf and the West, including the mechanisms and the traditional protection treaties between the two parties, and establishing instead a different bilateral approach that resulted in giving the Gulf countries more political space they ceded voluntarily for the United States which adapted itself with a troubled instable reality in the Middle East as long as it exempt it from the direct military docking with its conflicts, as part of a policy that those who hope the United State may retract from in case the current administration changes aren’t taking in consideration that it is an internal consensus in the United States among both: Republicans and Democrats.

The Relative political independence gained by Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries, besides its manifestations which were translated in the multiple regional alliances launched by these countries creating sometimes disparities within the Gulf Cooperation Council itself, mainly between Saudi Arabia and Qatar and sometimes UAE regarding different topics such as the relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood movement, Hamas, Egypt and Libya, their repercussion have also imposed a different approach regarding their view of the role that should be played by their armies, security and military agencies and what may follow in different policies in purchasing arm deals that meet the challenges imposed by such orientation.

In recent years The Gulf countries accompanied their political maneuvering in more than one file with a parallel military action. In addition to the war on Yemen, Saudi Arabia set a precedent in its history by deploying many of their troops in Bahrain, While a country like the UAE had for the first time its military aircraft raiding multiple targets representing groups under the command of DAASH and other Militant groups in both Iraq and Libya, in addition to other raids launched by the Saudi military aircraft over the Syrian territories under the umbrella of the international coalition against terrorism led by the United States.

Besides, the armaments deals concluded between the Gulf countries and the West exceeded the traditional royalties mentality among them, and took into consideration countries’ real armament plans responding to their actual needs necessitated by their defensive and battle plans. In the case of Saudi Arabia, the latter conducted a deal with the USA that involved buying and developing eighty four F-15 aircrafts, which represented the largest oversees Arms deal in the history of the United States, in addition to dozens of Apache helicopters, Blackhawks and other deals such as purchasing 25 troops carrier aircrafts, shipping aircrafts, and other military equipments. 

Saudi Arabia also took the direction of diversifying its arms sources. What seemed remarkable was the Saudi-Chinese growing cooperation in this area, where the two parties agreed on selling drones to Saudi Arabia while a similar deal was also concluded by UAE.

China also concluded another deal with Saudi that did not get the attention it should have, even though it was a key-indicator for understanding the Chinese logic in formulating relationships in the region: a defensive system said to be designed to block possible Iranian attacks on the kingdom.

UAE and Qatar were also active customers in the international arms market. Besides their purchases from the United States, they seeked other sources such as China France, from whom Qatar bought a Rafale jet, and other European countries including Russia.

Challenges and options:

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are extremely aware of the size of international transformations and their future implications domestically and externally.

The anticipated openness between the west and Iran after the lift of the sanctions will give the Iranian regime, the Gulf states ‘Arch enemy, wider space to maneuver and extend their influence in the region.

The return of Iran as a member of the international oil and gas market seller will shake the comfortable historic position that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries enjoyed for decades, and would disrupt their profit and loss accounts because of the changes in the market’s supply and demand data caused by the increase of the Iranian oil and gas quota in the market. 

Also the Loud return of the Russian bear into the region, loaded with new agendas that, the least to say about, are not a place of consent with The Gulf countries, outwardly, and whoever speaks internationally on their behalf from their western allies, which would increase the obstacles facing their political movements in the region and lead to a challenges that threatens to ruin their plans as it is the case in Syria.

What is even more severe for an oil-producing country like Saudi Arabia is the sharp decline in oil prices, which reduced significantly their financial revenues from oil sale, coupled with a global decline in demands, along with the challenges that the future holds from the competitive oil industry and alternative energy sources, notably the Gas, that may strip Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing countries of their market privileges. 

This have pushed countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE for the first time in their history to declare a series of governmental decisions imposing restriction on the consumption patterns of their citizens under the pretext of tackling the financial difficulties these countries are experiencing.

In face of this critical highly challenging geopolitical map, the Gulf bets it can improve its position in the ongoing conflicts equation, by taking the initiative and entering the battlefield relying on its own military capacities, backed by an international coalition providing the intelligence and logistical support that can supplement its defensive and offensive plans; however, it remains a riskful strategic option that could backfire, especially since pushing the Gulf troops to fight on multiple fronts may open indefinitely and for a long term an ongoing drain tunnel and defeat remains a possible option at the end.

Nevertheless, it certainly represents a turning point in the history of the establishment of the Gulf political entities, whereby they abandon their historical state of submissiveness as financial and economic centers that rent their defenses from western protection by joining a group of strategic locations representing a vital interest for the west which includes their military area of influence abroad, and they cease from limiting their political influence and action on remote clashes in the regional conflict zones through their local agents, and translate these actions and influences into a military material presence, especially that the Gulf Leaders have on more than one occasion expressed their great disappointment in their agents in countries like Syria and Lebanon, Or what they felt of failure of other countries to catch up on their political and military choices, as it is the case with Egypt, which many Gulf mediatic voices bestowed on their regime and political forces the “ingratitude” epithet. Most importantly, the Gulf states joined initiative to create a common defense strategy and build their own military protection system in the aim of partially dispensing from the complete dependence on the US bases scattered over the Gulf territory and waters.


The United States is watching what is taking place in the Middle East with an extreme joy and consent, and is reading these changes as a sign of a new American regional strategy in the making which can achieve the maximum possible gain with the least possible political and material costs.

At the level of the Gulf countries, these countries purchases from the American weapons’ bill has witnessed a qualitative increase, and the astronomical profits of the US military manufacturer has silenced any domestic sounds from lobbies and pressure groups that may object the new military and political restructuring strategy of the current administration in the region. 

This have also set new rules for the relationships between the Gulf and the United States, under which the roof of the US military protection’s obligation toward these countries has been lowered, and new limits were set for what these obligations may trigger regarding the Political approach of the Gulf countries for the region’s issues.

The United States is betting that the new relationships restriction in the future will push the Gulf countries into adapting to live under the US Middle-Eastern choices, which the Gulf leaders are currently having some reservations against, especially with regard to the post nuclear deal Iran; also the search for companionship may push them to show more flexibility toward the issue of opening up to Israel.

Internationally, the United States has grown tired of carrying alone the middle eastern issues and is looking forward to get rid of this burden and abandon the image of the international policeman who is hostile toward the peoples of the region, while other international parties are enjoying the grapes of stability the US is providing by securing this area which provides the biggest share of the world’s energy needs. 

Whatever are the interpretation of the Russian arrival to the region, the latter is totally aware of the context of its presence and the limits of its actions, so is the case for China, whose recent studied carefully movements among the rival parties reveal that it is compelled to be present in order to maintain the situation as it is without any further purposes that some imaginations may come up with. 

In face of this burning regional map and the possibilities it carries of new cracks and collapses, and a fog that hides the lines between alliances and rivalry in the current battle, all facts are confused and there is a present suspicion in foreseeing the winner and the defeated, However one fact remains clear: An old US era that dominated for decades is withering while a new US Era is starting to flourish.

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