Trump Administration Makes U-Turn in Middle East
With a new American military base in Israel, Washington has refocused US foreign policy on the Middle East.
The US has a history of deploying its military forces to Israel, but now it has opened a permanent base in the Negev desert. For many in Washington and Tel Aviv, this move is about countering Israel’s enemy: the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The base is permanent, as Israeli Air Force Brigade General Zvika Haimovich said at its opening in September: “The base is here to stay. It involved a significant allocation of resources.” The objective of the military base is to help operate Israel’s multi-tiered missile defense system, which the two countries developed together. The statements from both American and Israeli air commanders refer to the X-Band radar system, which the US deployed to the Negev in 2009. As per Haaretz, “The powerful system, which can detect missile launches from a distance of hundreds of kilometers away, was part of U.S. efforts to improve Israel’s defensive capabilities in the face of the growing threat from Iran.”
Work on the US missile defense base in southern Israel has taken place for nearly four years. The idea of building a US military base in Israel was promoted due to the efforts of both Tel Aviv and Washington in addressing errors related to deterrence and defense systems. This was in the wake of fears that non-state actors in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria would target Israel. In addition, the system weakness was clear during the March 2016 joint military drills between the Americans and Israelis in the so-called “Jennifer Cobra” maneuvers.
The base will be directly linked to the radar system that protects the Dimona nuclear reactor, which is also operated by the US. This may answer the real motives behind the July 2017 anchoring of the American aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush off the northern port of Haifa for the first time in 17 years.
Russian expansion in the Middle East
Over the past four years, Russia has imposed itself on the regional stage as an influential player, especially in Syria. Moscow has succeeded in restoring its pivotal military role in the Middle East — similar to that of Washington. Some analysts even believe that Russia has done better in some places of the region than the US. The Russian military expansion in the Eastern Mediterranean basin in particular, which comes within the framework of the permanent survival strategy pursued by Moscow, is represented by the Russian installation of a naval base in Tartus, Syria, as well as another air base in Hemeimeem in Latakia, amid rumors about renting a naval base in Egypt.
Moscow is well aware of the strategic importance of the Middle East. Russia seeks to secure oil and gas resources and to ensure that it controls world energy for at least the next 50 years. With this, it has the excuse to have a long military presence in the region. This justifies its deals with Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, whose forces in the Libyan National Army now control most oil wells in the country. That justifies why Russia seeks to cooperate with Haftar at the expense of the Americans.
Though the priority of Russian proliferation and deployment of its troops in the Middle East is to defend its national security, one should note that Russia is closer to the Middle East than the US and is affected by its ups and downs. In the 1990s, Russia combated extremists in Chechnya. Today, Daesh (Islamic State), al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups are trying to extend their influence in areas near Russia, including Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, the Caucasus, Chechnya and Dagestan. Thus, Russia finds itself compelled to combat the forces of international terrorism, especially in the Middle East.
Regarding the American motives for launching a missile defense base in Israel, the main concern for Washington is the expansion of Russian influence in the Middle East, followed by Iran’s growing power and its militias, including Hezbollah and others in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. This has become a headache for the US and Israel.
Perhaps this concern is what prompted the current US administration to reconsider its foreign policy in the Middle East, and to reevaluate what was deemed to be a full US withdrawal from the region during the reign of former US President Barack Obama. The appointment of General Herbert Raymond McMaster as national security adviser to the Trump administration has many connotations. He is there to counter terrorist organizations on one hand, and he is also there to counter the Middle East ambitions of Russia, Iran and China on the other.
It is clear that the American military base in Israel, which is the only foreign base located in the country, reflects a new strategy adopted by Washington, driven by recent regional developments that have reshaped the political map and the forms of alliances. The US is seeking a strategic balance to preserve its national security through a massive military deployment in this volatile region. This will force the Americans to take control of the Middle East and not leave the arena empty for its Russian and Iranian adversaries to capitalize on.
The steps taken by Moscow and Tehran in the region over recent years, in addition to the concerns of Israel with the Russian-Iranian expansion to the basins of the Mediterranean, and the recent Iraqi Kurdistan referendum have all driven the US to intensify its presence in the Middle East once again.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.