Preamble: We have taken a sabbatical from writing articles for the last 18 months in response to the venom that is out there in the media. However, the US response to the Iranian attacks seems to indicate a completely new US approach to global stability. Therefore I felt duty bound to spell out my thoughts and respond to those who can only see their hate of this administration.
The recent Iranian attacks on the Saudi oil facilities in north eastern Saudi Arabia indicate an escalation by the Iranians. Why? Do the Iranians perceive that the US is powerless because of the Democratic calls for impeachment? Are the sanctions and limits on Iranian oil exports taking such a toll that the Iranians feel that the world will react to Saudi oil output short falls and try to force the US to relax its containment of Iran?
The lack of an American kinetic response has the world wondering what has changed in the US approach to the world. By listening to the president’s speech at the UN yesterday it is now very clear that the President does not see the US as the world’s policeman. In the name of regional stability the US is deploying defensive capabilities to Saudi Arabia.
The recent attacks show the deficiencies of the Saudi military. In spite of extensive expenditures their missile defense capabilities are still inadequate in the face of Iranian cruise missiles. Reports indicate that the problems are both the training of the force and the needs of a modern missile defense.
Missile defense requires the ability to intercept multiple types of missiles through a complex spectrum of missile types. Most missile defense systems can be overcome by a volume of missiles. The Israeli “Iron Dome” system attempts to discriminate based on a calculation of impact points. Will incoming missiles hit critical assets? The Saudi system has not reached the degree of sophistication required to make such a discrimination automatically.
The lack of a kinetic attack illustrates the new Trump Doctrine—allies must protect themselves and respond to attacks using their own capabilities. The US will assist where necessary to maintain stability until the allies have developed their own capabilities. This approach means that the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperative Council members should respond to threats. The US may provide technical assistance in such a response, but one should not expect US forces attacking Iran unless US forces have been directly engaged by Iranians.
The military situation in the Gulf is truly asymmetric, but in a different way than the discussion of conventional forces versus terrorists or unconventional forces. The Iranians have devoted a significant part of their defense development to offensive missiles and small attack boats, while the Gulf States have focused on air power and defensive forces. As noted above the Iranian missile assets can most likely overpower the defenses of the Gulf States. However, a series of preemptive attacks might go a long way in leveling the battle field. One could even envision the Apache attack helicopters that the Saudis have being able to go in under the Iranian radar and doing extensive damage.
Will the Saudis/Gulf States respond? The answer to this question is probably in the Iranian hands. If they push the opportunity that they may perceive exists because of the political situation in the US they may in fact cause a reaction with extensive US support. On the other hand if the new status quo continues nothing may happen. The status quo favors the Saudis and the Gulf States as the political situation in Iran may continue to deteriorate and they can enhance their defensive and offensive capabilities.