US-Saudi navy drills boost maritime security in the Gulf

By Sultan al-Barei in Riyadh

Saudi military naval vessels provide security for a commercial ship in the Gulf waters. [Photo courtesy of Saudi Press Agency]

Saudi military naval vessels provide security for a commercial ship in the Gulf waters. [Photo courtesy of Saudi Press Agency]

Joint drills taking place between the Saudi Royal Navy and US Navy come at a crucial time for maritime security in the Arabian Gulf, amid tensions in the region and the continuing threat from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), military analysts say.

The manoeuvres, dubbed "Marine Defender", aim to enhance security in the Gulf and achieve the highest level of direct co-ordination between the two naval powers in preparation for any emergency that might arise.

The two-week exercise kicked off Monday (February 24th) at the King Abdulaziz Naval Base in al-Jubail, Eastern Province.

The forces will be trained on confronting various scenarios using live ammunition. Air and land forces will also take part in the drill.

Royal Saudi naval officers at work in the operations room of a Saudi naval vessel. [Photo courtesy of Saudi Press Agency]

Royal Saudi naval officers at work in the operations room of a Saudi naval vessel. [Photo courtesy of Saudi Press Agency]

Ensuring the region's stability

"The exercises aim to increase the combat readiness of these naval forces by achieving harmony between them to ensure quick action is taken in response to any emergency that might arise and threaten maritime security in the Gulf region," Maj. Gen. (ret.) Mansour al-Shehri, a Saudi military expert, told Al-Mashareq.

Maritime co-operation "is an essential part of the military co-operation" between the US and Saudi Arabia, which aims to ensure the region's stability and security and counter any threat to it, he said.

"It is not possible to achieve full military co-ordination without strengthening naval-military co-ordination, because the region's geography makes its maritime area a strategic point that must be protected to deter threats, particularly from the Iranian side," he said.

These threats vary from speedboats and infiltration attempts to attempts to smuggle weapons or contraband, al-Shehri said.

US-Saudi military co-operation is in line with "the strategic partnership the US has established with the Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, to protect their security and the security of sea lanes", he said.

On February 9th, a US Navy vessel operating as part of a surface combat group that is based at the US Navy's 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain seized Iranian-made weapons from a dhow in the Arabian Sea.

The dhow was headed for Yemen and the weapons were assessed to be destined for the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah), the US military said.

The weapons systems seized are "identical" to a cache of weapons seized in the Arabian Sea by another US Navy vessel on November 25th, said US Central Command (CENTCOM), which administers US military affairs in the Middle East.

Drying up IRGC funding sources

The joint exercises between the US and Saudi navies "are essential", said Yahya Muhammad Ali, a military and strategy expert.

"From the military standpoint, these training exercises, which include manoeuvres and exercises, are essential to joint co-ordination and elevating it to the highest levels, and increasing combat readiness," he told Al-Mashareq.

Quick action in response to any emergency, with several forces involved, cannot bear fruit without training exercises, he said.

The latest exercises allow for "flexibility in taking quick action in the event a suspect shipment passes through these waters -- be it weapons, drugs or contraband", Ali said.

"They are therefore of great benefit in terms of stopping the support obtained by IRGC affiliates, particularly financial support," he said.

"This, of course, comes within the framework of the efforts undertaken by the US and Saudi Arabia to dry up the IRGC's sources of funding and prevent it from supplying its affiliates with weapons, ammunition and missiles," he said.

Boosting maritime security, economic stability

"The IRGC and its militias have gone overboard recently in their attacks on merchant ships and commercial and petroleum sites in the Gulf states, and therefore the security of this maritime area can only be ensured with a military deterrent force that can put an end to all these rabid actions by Iran," said political researcher Abdul Nabi Bakkar.

Securing the waters of the Gulf region "is the concern of not only the Gulf states but all countries of the world", he told Al-Mashareq.

This region "is one of the most important strategic areas for global trade and global oil supplies", he said.

"Any disruption to the flow of commercial navigation would disrupt global trade, causing oil and commodity prices to spike and leading to higher maritime insurance premiums, and consequently higher commodity prices worldwide," he said.

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