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US foreign policy

CENTCOM chief bemoans delays in US weapons sales to Middle East allies

In addition to reducing the number of American troops and capabilities in the region, Gen. McKenzie said this contributed to the perception of a “wavering United States commitment to the security and stability” of the area and individual countries.

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The top US military general for the Middle East on Thursday lamented the delay in weapons sales to Washington’s allies in the Gulf and called for doubling down on “America’s commitment to regional security and our partnerships.”

Gen. Frank McKenzie, speaking about ways of deterring Iran, said proving that the US was a “credible, dependable force in the region” was needed.

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“In this regard, the greatest threat to the region’s security—Iran’s missile force—is also a catalyst for increased cooperation in the form of Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD),” Gen. McKenzie told the House Armed Services Committee.

Ties between Gulf allies, specifically Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have soured since the Biden administration took office and made several foreign policy decisions seen as hostile by Gulf countries.

Such moves included:

  • Ending support for “offensive” operations in Yemen
  • Removing the Iran-backed Houthis and its leaders from terror blacklists
  • Freezing arms sales to Riyadh and the UAE
  • Vowing to “recalibrate” ties with Saudi Arabia

US President Joe Biden has since said he was reconsidering designating the Houthis following their near-daily attacks on Saudi Arabia and recent drone attacks on Abu Dhabi. The group also refuses to negotiate a political solution to the yearslong war in Yemen, which involves the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

Mainly progressive Democrats have attempted to block US arms sales to Gulf countries, citing human rights violations.

The US general, who will be replaced in the coming weeks, said regional partners needed to share intelligence “more fully and quickly than they have to date,” but he said there was no need for new foreign forces deployed to neighboring nations.

But Gen. McKenzie said CENTCOM was being hindered in its ability to achieve “effective, economical collective security” due to delays in foreign military sales (FMS) to allies and partners.

In addition to reducing the number of American troops and capabilities in the region, Gen. McKenzie said this contributed to the perception of a “wavering United States commitment to the security and stability” of the area and individual countries.

This has also given US competitors an opening to undermine the deterrence of Iran, he said. “Countering this impression requires credible assurance and demonstrations of America’s commitment to regional security and our partnerships.”

Gen. McKenzie added: “This commitment includes a recognition of the importance of our security assistance enterprise and our defense industry being capable of efficiently supporting our partners’ defensive needs.”

Yemen’s Houthis

Speaking at length about the Houthis, Gen. McKenzie said the Houthis were the “least restrained and most destabilizing of all of Iran’s affiliates in the region.”

He also warned that the Houthis were prepared to further escalate the war in Yemen by “using whatever means the Iranians put at their disposal, even at the risk of inflicting mass civilian casualties and threatening American forces.”

Gen. McKenzie pointed to the recent attacks on the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which included striking major oil infrastructure hubs.

“Likely emboldened by territorial gains in western and central Yemen, as well as perceived declining US support to the Saudi-led Coalition, the Houthis accompanied their campaign to capture Marib with near-daily cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia using UASs, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles,” he said.

Read more: ‘I don’t care’ what Biden thinks of me: Saudi Crown Prince

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