The United States is deploying its troops to Saudi Arabia amid growing tensions in the region and concerns that Washington is preparing for a war with Iran. It is the first deployment of US forces in the kingdom since toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein in neighbouring Iraq. Tensions run high in the region, as Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized on Friday (19 July) a British-flagged oil tanker and briefly detained a second ship in the Strait of Hormuz, a choke point for around a third of the world’s sea-borne oil. A senior Iranian official threatened “reciprocal action” after Britain detained an Iranian tanker, Grace 1, near Gibraltar on 4 July.
Statements from the US Central Command (CENTCOM) and Riyadh have confirmed the deployment of US forces in Saudi Arabia: “Based on mutual cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the United States of America, and their desire to enhance everything that could preserve the security of the region and its stability … King Salman gave his approval to host American forces,” the Saudi defense ministry announced.“ According to CENTCOM, the deployment “provides an additional deterrent, and ensures our ability to defend our forces and interests in the region from emergent, credible threats.” While Riyadh and Washington have not disclosed the number of troops to be deployed in the kingdom, some US media reports claim at least 500 American soldiers will be stationed at the Prince Sultan military air base in the country.
The US-Iran relations have deteriorated significantly since President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal last year and reimposed tough sanctions that have hit Iran’s oil exports. Some experts argue that control over oil is one of the major reasons behind the US’ conflict with Iran. Professor Andreas Krieg at King’s College London says that the US troop deployment in Saudi Arabia “is part of posturing and the US trying to increase its military options in case of a strike on Iran.” In the meantime, European countries have urged Tehran to decrease tensions and avoid targeting oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, with France and Germany expressing “solidarity” with the UK after Iran’s seizure of the Stena Impero. The German Foreign Office commented on the latest development that “this is an unjustifiable interference in commercial shipping that dangerously escalates an already tense situation.”