The US administration of President Joe Biden has transferred a significant number of Patriot antimissile interceptors to Saudi Arabia, fulfilling an urgent request by the kingdom amid growing tensions between the two countries.
According to AP, the transfers took place last month, citing a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity yesterday. The move has been seen as an attempt to bolster relations in line with Biden’s promise that “America will have the backs of our friends in the region”.
Relations between Riyadh and Washington have been strained ever since Biden took office last year, he had refused to deal directly with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) and, as a presidential candidate, vowed to make a pariah out of the kingdom over the state-sanctioned murder of US resident and Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
Biden’s rescinding of the previous Trump administration’s decision to add Yemen’s Houthi movement onto the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTO) list has also been a point of contention for the US and the Saudis.
Last year it was reported that the US had moved its own Patriot defence system from Sultan Air Base, which lies 70 miles south-east of the capital Riyadh. The decision coincided with the Biden administration’s decision to focus its foreign policy priorities towards the Asia Pacific region to counter the growing influence of China.
The controversial move was made despite the Saudis receiving an uptick in retaliatory drone and missile attacks across the border from the Houthi-aligned Yemeni armed forces, which is supported by Iran.
Yesterday, the Houthis carried out a combined drone and missile attack against a liquefied natural gas (LGN) plant, water desalination plant, oil facility and power station. This was followed by a similar attack on an Aramco oil facility in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah, causing a fire. There were no casualties reported.
The timing of the delivery of the Patriot defence system comes amid other reports hinting at the deteriorating relationship between the US and the Saudis.
Last month, MBS and the UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed snubbed a request by Biden to discuss the oil crisis and potentially raise production a week before Russia’s on-going military operations in Ukraine.
While last week, it was reported that faced with growing frustration with Washington, Riyadh has been in active talks with China to price some of its oil sales in the yuan, which would have negative implications on the US dollar’s domination over the global petroleum market.