The United States has transferred a significant number of Patriot missile interceptors to Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, as the Biden administration seeks to ease what has been a point of tension in increasingly complicated US-Saudi relations.
A senior administration official confirmed late Sunday that the interceptors had been sent to Saudi Arabia. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a decision that has not been officially announced, said the decision was in line with President Joe Biden’s promise that “America will have the backs of our friends in the region”.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday condemned Houthi forces in Yemen after unleashing one of their most intense barrages of drone and missile strikes on critical Saudi energy facilities. Saudi Arabia, starting a fire at one site and temporarily cutting off oil production at another.
The Associated Press reported in September that the United States had moved its own Patriot defense system from Prince Sultan Air Base outside Riyadh, even as the kingdom continued to face air attacks from Houthi rebels. from Yemen.
The kingdom has insisted that the interceptors are essential to their defense against Houthi attacks. The Saudis have been locked in a no-win war with the Houthis since March 2015.
As the U.S. Patriot systems were moved out of the kingdom, administration officials said the shift in defense capabilities was partly due to a desire to address what U.S. officials consider the “conflict great powers” imminent with China and Russia. Pentagon officials noted that the United States maintains tens of thousands of forces and a robust force posture in the Middle East representing “some of our most advanced air and sea capabilities.”
The decision to boost the supply of interceptors to Saudi Arabia was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
US-Saudi relations have been strained since Biden took office. The president refused to deal directly with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and removed the Houthis from the list of designated terrorist groups.
The Biden administration released a declassified intelligence report last year concluding that the crown prince, son of aging King Salman and known as MBS, cleared the team of Saudi security and intelligence officials who killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The killing of MBS critic Khashoggi has drawn worldwide condemnation. The crown prince insists he was not involved in the operation carried out by Saudi agents.
In a recent interview with The Atlantic, the crown prince was asked if Biden misunderstands something about him. He replied, “I just don’t care” and that it was up to Biden to think “of America’s interests” when weighing his dealings with the Saudi monarchy.
The White House dispatched Brett McGurk, the National Security Council’s Middle East coordinator, and State Department energy envoy Amos Hochstein to Riyadh last month to talk with Saudi officials about a series of issues, including the ongoing war in Yemen and around the world. energy supplies.
The Saudis have so far refused to pump more crude to blunt the surge in global oil prices that has been spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.