Military tie between Saudi Arabia and US grows stronger

Last week, the US Marine Corps and the Royal Saudi Armed Forces launched a joint military exercise in Saudi Arabia. Dubbed Native Fury 22, the series of exercises focuses on coordinating mobilization, logistical operations and deployment, according to Saudi state media outlets.

Native Fury 22 is the latest marker in the strengthening of US-Saudi ties. In early August, US Central Command published a press release outlining the itinerary for a joint U.S.-Saudi military exercise called Exercise Eagle Resolve 23, which is scheduled for May-June 2023. Similar to Native Fury, Eagle Resolve is designed to improve collaborative responses to “complexity of current and emerging regional threats in the US Central Command area of ​​responsibility.

While Saudi-US relations began on shaky ground when the Biden administration took office, recent joint efforts suggest that this alliance will play an important role in the future of the Middle East.

A look back at a historic partnership

The Saudi Ministry of Defense described the ongoing Native Fury 22 exercise to state-affiliated news agencies. Organized by the Kingdom, the exercises involve Saudi officials from several ministries and organizations. Arab News reported that the purpose of Native Fury 22 is to “provide personnel with the opportunity to train and practice the implementation of bilateral military, operational and logistical plans; strengthen Saudi-US military coordination and partnership; improve joint working skills; and gain experience using the Kingdom’s military bases and road networks. Marine Corps Forces Central Command shared a similar view via Twitter last week, stating that “Marines and Sailors with CLR-1, 1st MLG, arriving in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for the 8e iteration of interoperability, logistics operations with the Saudi armed forces.

The start of the month-long military exercise in Yabu coincided with the approval of two massive arms sales to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Worth a combined value of more than $5 billion, the deals signaled a major shift in the Biden administration’s policy on the Gulf. During Biden’s campaign, the president called Riyadh a “pariah state,” signaling that US military aid to the Gulf country would be reviewed because of the Kingdom’s human rights record. However, Iran’s malign behavior in the region has pushed America back towards its historic Gulf allies in the name of mutual defense.

Replenishment of missile stocks

Under the US-approved arms deal with Riyadh, Saudi Arabia would purchase 300 MIM-104E Patriot missiles. In addition to missiles, control stations, fire control and other assets must be delivered in Riyadh. According to State Department, the sale of Patriot missiles is intended to replenish the dwindling Saudi stockpile. “These missiles are used to defend the borders of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against the Houthis’ persistent cross-border unmanned aerial systems and ballistic missile attacks on civilian sites and critical infrastructure in Saudi Arabia,” the Department said.

The Patriot missile is a surface-to-air missile system named after its radar component. Although primarily used by the US military, the missile has been exported to various allied countries, including Saudi Arabia. The civil war in neighboring Yemen has seen the Royal Saudi Armed Forces use the Patriot to repel barrages launched by the Houthis. Indeed at the beginning of 2022, the Saudi army spear Patriot missiles on a barrage of rockets launched by the Houthis, targeting Saudi airspace. The Saudis claimed that seven of their Patriot missiles hit the intended targets, proving the value of the country’s missile stockpile.

According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Riyadh purchased almost a quarter of all US arms sold between 2017 and 2021. This staggering figure illustrates the critical role the Kingdom has played for the US defense industry in recent years. Early in the Biden presidency, however, restrictions were put in place that froze arms sales that remained untouched for decades. The reversal of the White House’s arms policy toward the Saudis has everything to do with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Although the current administration has tried to shift the focus of US Middle East policy to the People’s Republic of China, Tehran’s behavior has made that goal nearly impossible.

Biography of the expert: Maya Carlin is a Middle East defense editor at 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst at the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has lines in numerous publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel.

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