US-Saudi co-operation deterred potential attack, says American official

Washington is building defence system in the region to fend off threats, says Brett McGurk

Brett McGurk speaking at the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain in November 2021.  AFP
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The US and Saudi Arabia’s close co-operation deterred a possible Iranian attack as Washington reinforces defence infrastructure in the region, a top American official said on Sunday.

While tensions between the US and Iran are increasing, Washington is focusing on deterring threats in the region, Brett McGurk, the US National Security Council Co-ordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, told the annual Manama Dialogue conference in Bahrain.

American forces have “exposed and deterred imminent threats” by Iran, Mr McGurk said.

He said a potential attack on Riyadh “likely did not emerge because of the close security co-operation between Saudi Arabia and the United States, which is ongoing and continuous”.

“Partnerships are the first principle for US policy in the region: strengthening them, developing new ones, and building alliances to address challenges such as Iran, food and energy security, and climate change,” he said.

Mr McGurk said the US “is now actively building and enabling an integrated air and maritime defence architecture in this region”.

He did not specify which countries were involved in creating the defence system.

“Something long talked about is now being done, through innovative partnerships and new technologies,” Mr McGurk said.

The US security official's statement comes at a time when Iran, which is known to arm and support militias across the region, has acknowledged providing drones to Russia after previously claiming that it had never supplied weapons to Russia.

Tehran provided a “small number of drones” to Russia in the months before Moscow launched an invasion of Ukraine, the Iran's foreign minister said recently.

“Iran providing Russia with drones and missiles is just one piece of the puzzle,” Mr McGurk said. “Iran and Russia are developing a military consortium that could increase Iran’s capabilities significantly.”

On Saturday, the US Central Command Chief, Gen Michael Kurilla, told the conference that more than 100 unmanned vessels would be deployed in Gulf waters by next year to stave off maritime threats.

“By this time next year, Task Force 59 will bring together a fleet of over 100 unmanned surface and subsurface vessels operating together, communicating together and providing maritime domain awareness,” Gen Kurilla said.

His announcement came days after the US and Israel blamed Iran for a drone attack off the coast of Oman on a tanker operated by an Israeli-owned company.

The attack was the latest in a string of disruptions to maritime traffic in Gulf waters that provide a key route for world energy supplies.

Israeli National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata described Iran as Israel's “most prominent security threat”.

Israel has lobbied the US and European powers to abandon attempts to renew a 2015 deal with Tehran over its nuclear programme.

Negotiations over that deal, which would ease sanctions pressure on Tehran, have stalled.

“Enough with futile talks in Vienna,” Mr Hulata said at the conference on Sunday.

He said “even the people of Iran are saying enough”, referring to two months of nationwide protests which have become the biggest challenge to Iran's clerical regime since the country's 1979 revolution.

Accusing Iran of “a brutal crackdown against its own people”, Mr Hulata said he supported the protesters' chant for “women, life, freedom” as his mother was of Iranian descent.

Calls for unity against Iran's aggression in the region were echoed throughout the conference organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“Gulf countries have been warning for years about the risks of Iran’s drones — it took us too long to understand that we must work to prevent other forms of weapons proliferation, as well as nuclear weapons,” the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in her opening speech.

“Let us join forces for our collective security. Gulf security matters to Europe, as Europe’s security matters to the Gulf,” she said.

Ms von der Leyen said the EU was ready to do its part in strengthening economic and security engagement with the region.

Updated: November 21, 2022, 4:53 AM