February 9, 2021
The US will continue to help Saudi Arabia defend itself “efficiently and effectively” against the common threat of Iran, Washington’s military chief in the region said on Monday.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command (Centcom), said nothing had been said or done by Joe Biden’s new administration that would stop the US working with the Kingdom against Tehran’s destabilizing activities.
“Our focus there is going to be to do things that will help them (Saudi Arabia) defend themselves more effectively and efficiently,” Gen. McKenzie told the Middle East Institute. “There’s a common threat there and that common threat is Iran.”
Biden said last week that the US would continue to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory and people from Iranian attacks through its proxy forces, including the Houthi militants in Yemen.
“Over the last several weeks a number of attacks have been launched out of Yemen against Saudi Arabia,” Gen. McKenzie said. “We will help the Saudis defend against those attacks by giving them intelligence when we can.”
In his outline of the US military position in the Middle East and Afghanistan, Gen. McKenzie referred to a drone and missile attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities in September 2019 that shook global energy markets. the attack was widely blamed on Iran.
He said the threat of a similar attack remained “very real.”
“Anything we can do to assist the Saudis in getting better and more effective in defending against that attack is good for them and good for us as well,” Gen. McKenzie said.
Under the Donald Trump presidency, the US targeted Iran with a “maximum pressure” campaign after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal.
His administration unleashed punishing sanctions and despatched military resources to the Gulf in a bid to deter Iran from ramping up its aggressive foreign policy in the region. In January 2020, the US assassinated the regime’s most powerful military figure, Qassem Soleimani, in an airstrike at Baghdad airport.
While tensions between the US and Iran remain high in the Arabian Gulf, Gen. McKenzie said Washington’s stance in the region had sent a signal “clearly received by the Iranian regime.”
“I believe our presence in the region, mostly defensive in nature, has brought us to a period of contested deterrence with Iran,” he said. “That presence sends a clear and unambiguous signal of our capability and will.”
In the online event, which included Gerald Feierstein, a former US ambassador to Yemen, Gen. McKenzie said Iran remained the most challenging driver of instability in the Middle East.
Along with Yemen, he referred to Iran’s influence in Syria and Iraq, which he said Tehran uses as a proxy battlefield.
He welcomed the move last month by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain to repair ties with Qatar, saying a united GCC helped the US at a practical military level.