Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Photo: Getty Images
June 23, 2019
US policy has always been bipartisan. Two blocks fight against each other without considering the potential impact of their decisions on global geopolitics and markets.
The current decisions of the US Senate have led Washington into the same league as Britain, which is in a political stalemate over the Brexit crisis.
At a time when the world is watching a possible decline in the Persian Gulf, the US Senate has decided, after all its wisdom, to increase US pressure on one of its only remaining allies in the region, Saudi Arabia.
Washington has not only put Saudi Arabia on a blacklist of countries that do not play a sufficient role in fighting human trafficking, but the US Senate has also voted to block further military agreements with the kingdom. For some, adding a country to a list is not really news, but in Saudi Arabia, which is currently leading the US-sponsored anti-Iran bloc, this is considered a slap in the face. The legal implications are low as countries usually shake them off without any problems. However, in times of regional conflict and possible Iranian military action, the US needs the full support of its Gulf allies.
What aggravates the situation is that the Arab Gulf states are currently on the receiving end of Iran’s anger, following a US President Trump’s geopolitical-military strategy to end the Iranian regime. The widespread attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman, the shooting down of a US drone over Iranian waters and the ongoing shelling of energy infrastructures and airports with rockets and drones from the Iran-backed Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen have Saudi Arabia in the Crossed and the UAE as targets at the front.
Without US military support, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain are at the mercy of Iran and its proxies, as Arab forces on the Gulf are unable to withstand Iranian aggression.
Other partners in the region are Egypt and Israel, but these countries are trying to stay out of the conflict. In order to counter Iranian agents in the region, Western weapons are needed to maintain equilibrium, and they are a deterrent to Iranian proxy attacks. The US Senate vote to block new military supplies and sales to Saudi Arabia could be decisive over the next few weeks. Although President Trump is expected to veto the Senate decision, Arab leaders are once again faced with inherent political volatility in relying on Western support. Ever since the Arab Spring, these countries have wondered where their future lies, whether they are in the western sphere of influence or are looking to the (far) east. Washington’s behavior could very soon lead to a pro-Russia or China move.
At the same time European partners such as Germany and Great Britain are also showing an increased anti-Arab sentiment.
After the almost de facto German blockade of military sales to the region, the only really strong partner for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Britain could now also stop its military support very soon. A British court has ruled that arms sales to the region are illegal because they could be used or used in the Yemen conflict, with Saudi Arabia being the main culprit.
The Arab Gulf states, with the exception of Qatar, are now looking for a new arms dealer. For most Arab countries, this move is not only a menacing development, but is also seen in the light of ongoing military treaties with Qatar, which is only half expelled in the Gulf region due to its close ties with Iran and Turkey.The one-sidedness of US-British and even German strategy is astonishing for the Sunni-Arab countries on the Gulf and in Egypt.
For the US and Britain, the current steps could become a rubicon situation. Trump needs Arab support to build a front against Iran, while access to the Arab military is needed in the event of a military confrontation with Tehran. At the same time, Washington and London must sit at the Arab tables to discuss not only security but also energy policy. By insulting people such as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Egyptian President Sisi or Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi, an anti-US front could emerge within OPEC + discussions in the coming weeks. So far, US-Western energy security has been included in the OPEC + discussion. The latter could change dramatically soon and put Riad / Abu Dhabi firmly in the corner of Russia for the foreseeable future.
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Without access to Western defense technology and hardware, Arab states must find other solutions. The most important supplier available is Russia, and its defense industry is more than happy to jump into the gap. The binding of the Arab Gulf States and Egypt to Moscow could create a new geopolitical reality that directly threatens the economic and energy interests of the West. All of this could happen at a time when the future of the Gulf is in danger and the energy markets are very volatile. Western leaders need to rethink their approach.
MBS / MBZ and Sisi are currently not going public and threatening Trump in the media. The Arab leaders are accustomed to playing chess on several boards. It will be very interesting to see the views of the respective oil ministers in the coming weeks as the US and Europe complain about oil prices. The Arab reactions will be very icy, while Russia will reap the rewards. Oil and gas analysts should be very aware of the geopolitical impact on crude oil if Arab producers are not aware of supply and demand limits but are guided by security threats from US Senators or British courts. In the end, even for OPEC, “power comes from the barrel of a weapon”. Given the current situation in the Gulf, this must be taken literally. Trump’s party has an elephant as a symbol, but Arab leaders are actually elephants they will never forget!
By Cyril Widdershoven for Oilprice.com