OPINION: The less-than half-hearted response of the US to Iran in the wake of attacks on oil tankers and key installations in the Persian Gulf is causing a rethink among conservative Arab states of their almost total dependence on the West’s economic and military alliance.
The main beneficiary seems to be Russia, judging by the red-carpet reception lavished on President Vladimir Putin during his visit this week to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The US has been the prime security protector of Saudi Arabia and its allies such as the UAE and Kuwait in an alliance dating back to 1945 when President Franklin Roosevelt met Saudi Arabia’s founder King Abdulaziz.
That cosy relationship has been coming under increasing pressure under US President Donald Trump, whose distaste for involvement in foreign wars Tehran is exploiting to the full.
Russia is clearly pitching for a bigger role in the Persian Gulf, both as an investment partner and a provider of military equipment to help Arabs protect themselves.
Furthermore, Putin has pledged to try and ease tensions in the Gulf, which saw the devastating 14 September attacks on oil and gas processing facilities that temporarily halved Saudi oil production.
Iran has also been blamed for a spate of attacks on tankers since May. Despite evidence of Iranian involvement, the US did not resort to direct military action following the September attacks that highlighted the failure of a US-supplied aerial defence system.
The Saudis have invited Russia to join an investigation into the attacks, while talks with Moscow have included the possible purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defence system.
It would be wrong to exaggerate the change — after all Putin only managed to tie up deals worth $2 billion with the Saudis, which pales before a $300 billion pact that Trump secured during his visit to Riyadh in 2017.
Burgeoning ties between Russia and Saudi Arabia will take a long time to make a dent in the dominant US military and political influence in the Persian Gulf, but may mark the beginning of a shift towards Moscow for added security.
(This is an Upstream opinion article.)