01.06.2014 Author: Viktor Mikhin

The Persian Gulf: Who is turning the region into a powder-keg?

rdn_533631d1bd22aSaudi Arabia’s Defense Minister has called on the Arab Gulf countries to strengthen military cooperation with the United States. Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud made this statement in mid-May before talks between the defense ministers of the Cooperation Council of Arab Gulf States / GCC and U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in Jeddah. “Our meeting is being held against the backdrop of threats to security and stability in the region that require the close cooperation of the Gulf States in the field of defense”, he warned fellow members of the Union. He also drew attention to the “political crises in the Arab world”, as well as to non-existing attempts by Iran to build weapons of mass destruction, and to unconfirmed cases of interference in the internal affairs of the GCC countries.

In turn, Chuck Hagel, playing the role of “older brother and suzerain,” cheerfully promised his colleagues that negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program will not affect the security of the Arab states in the region. “I want to assure you that no one will use regional security as a bargaining chip in this negotiation process, he said. As an advocate of a diplomatic solution to the problem, the United States would ensure that Iran does not attempt to develop nuclear weapons and that it adheres to the relevant agreements. America, as always, will continue to act as guarantor of the security of the Arab Gulf countries, where 35,000 U.S. troops are currently stationed. Yet this is despite the fact that no one is threatening the security of the Arab states in the region, and Tehran is constantly taking steps towards building trust between it and the other states.”

However, the establishment of truly peaceful and good neighborly relations between the Gulf States is not in Washington’s interests, who still has many troops stationed in the region. The mere presence of these forces and the fact that the Pentagon has bases is enough to understand Washington’s expansionist policy, which it has pursued for many decades.

A strong contingent of U.S. forces is stationed in Bahrain. There are the headquarters of the 5th Operational U.S. Navy based there (the Navy base has been “allocated” almost a third of the entire kingdom, and is out of bounds for both foreigners and locals), and infrastructure maintenance for 30 combat and support ships, including aircraft carriers. The modern Sheikh Isa air base hosts a number of tanker aircraft. The total number of U.S. personnel in Manama comes to 5000 people, and, if necessary, can be quickly doubled.

Qatar hosts the main base in the region, the Al Udeid U.S. Air Force Base, where the U.S. Central Command Air Force headquarters is located. It can accommodate up to 100 combat aircraft at any one time. There is also a special forces unit, meant to ensure the safety of the Qatari Emir’s family. In addition, Qatar has a major advanced base (on the outskirts of Doha) for warehousing and storage of arms and equipment related to heavy weapons support (tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery). This is intended for ground forces, in a possible war in the region, to avoid having to transport equipment from the United States.

The El Dhafra permanent USAF airbase is in the UAE. There is an agreement with Oman on the use of the Masirah, Muscat and Markaz-Tamariz airfields, as well as the Muscat naval base. The island of Diego Garcia (British possession in the Indian Ocean), located in the middle of the Indian Ocean can be used as a base for B-1 and B-52 Stealth aircraft.

But the Pentagon is mostly focused on Saudi Arabia, where the Prince Sultan base is acting as Aerospace Control Center for U.S. operations in the Middle East. In addition, the U.S. Air Force can use the Saudi air base in Dhahran (Eastern Province) and two airfields in the north and northwest of the country near the border with Iraq and Jordan. For some time now a CIA has used a secret base in the Saudi territory to operate unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are widely used against “Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” (AQAP) , based in neighboring Yemen.

The United States currently have 6 multipurpose aircraft carrier groups (AMG) in this region. Each group includes 10 to 12 ships of various classes, including strike aircraft carriers. The total number of personnel in each group is between 12 and 15 thousand people. Over 5000 personnel are assigned to each aircraft carrier, including flight and technical staff serving 80 combat aircraft. The carriers Nimitz, Kitty Hawk, Constellation and Abraham Lincoln are based in the Persian Gulf, and the Harry S. Truman and Theodore Roosevelt ships are currently in the Mediterranean.

Typical carrier battle groups include two cruisers, a frigate, 3-4 destroyers, two nuclear submarines and several support ships. Some also include 3 amphibious ships of expeditionary forces with a Marine Battalion on board (2200 Marines). F/A-18 Hornets and F- 14 Tomcats are stationed on aircraft carriers as well as squadrons and EA-6B aircraft jamming units. Most escort warships are equipped with an “Aegis” air defense system. They can also carry Tomahawk cruise missiles, whose range is about 1,000 km and have an accuracy of up to 6 meters.

Trying to keep the rich countries in the region under its wing, Washington is continually adding to their weapons stockpiles, the amount of which far exceeds the needs of the Arab armies. So according to a 2010 long-term contract for the supply of weapons worth $ 60 billion in total, Saudi Arabia is to receive 84 new fighters, and a further 70 fighters of the Air Force fleet of the kingdom are to be upgraded. As a result of this transaction, Saudi Arabia has become the second largest F-15 operator in the world after the United States. The deal also includes the supply of 70 AH-64D Apache Longbow Block III attack helicopters and 72 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk transport helicopters. In 2012-2014, an application was made for the acquisition of 650 cruise missiles, 973 planning corrected bombs, 400 anti-ship missiles, about 1 thousand GBU- 39 / B SDB bombs, and BGM- 71 TOW heavy anti-tank missiles. The order is worth nearly $ 7.5 billion. There is also a deal with British BAE Systems for the purchase of 72 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets worth $ 7.2 billion.

Meanwhile Qatar, a tiny country with a tiny army, signed a record arms deal for $ 24 billion in March 2014 at the Doha International Maritime Defence Exhibition (DIMDEX), receiving 11 batteries of Patriot PAC- 3 anti-missile complexes, modern aircraft, multipurpose helicopters, German Leopard 2A7 tanks and self-propelled PzH2000 howitzers.

As a result, billions of dollars from Arab oil exports began to flow back in exchange for new American and Western-made weapons arsenals. According to rough estimates, in the next few years, the Arab Gulf countries will buy weapons worth over $ 120 billion. American arms dealers are again rubbing their hands together and counting the windfall from their bloody business.

Simultaneously, at the aforementioned meeting in Jeddah, as reported by the Saudi press, the U.S. and the Arab Gulf countries agreed to enhance cooperation in four military areas: air defense, anti-missile defense, marine defense and cyber security. As well as this, Riyadh, with Washington’s backing, is putting in a lot of effort to create an “Arab NATO”, an extended military alliance between the Gulf monarchies and the Arab kingdoms of Morocco and Jordan. Given the growing influence of Iran and its allies, there is no reason why the Arab states would not want to strengthen their military capabilities by creating a regional association.

Thus, Washington is trying to put together a new regional military-political bloc in the Gulf, which will be the basis for a unified air defense system (NMD) aimed towards Iran. At the same time, the Pentagon is planning to add its own Aegis system to the unified air defense system, by merging the naval and ground elements on their military bases. The goals of its deployment are pretty self-evident: to protect U.S. military bases, the U.S. Navy group (two carrier battle groups) and oil fields on the Gulf coast, to prevent a hypothetical missile and bomb attack by Iran on Israel. One of the tasks assigned by American strategists for this “mini- NATO” is what Washington sees as the need for the protection of shipping in the Straits of Hormuz, the main sea route for oil and gas exports from the Persian Gulf.

Given the strategic importance of the Gulf region and its volatility due to persisting tensions and differences between sovereign countries and groups of population on national, ethnic, and sectarian terms, Russia has repeatedly asked its Western partners to refrain from sending new military supplies to the region and create a peace-zone there. However, judging by the actions of the U.S. administration such measures are not enough, and it will continue to turn the Persian Gulf into a powder-keg which, according to the laws of history, sooner or later will explode.

Victor Mikhin, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.