A US submarine and naval vessel in Persian Gulf waters

UAE Says It Withdrew From US-Led Maritime Coalition

Wednesday, 05/31/2023
Mardo Soghom

Chief Editor of Iran International English website

The United Arab Emirates said Wednesday that it withdrew from a US-led Middle East maritime security coalition two months ago after evaluating its security relationships.

The UAE move roughly corresponds with Saudi Arabia’s decision in early March to restore diplomatic relations with Iran, which has been much discussed as a shift in Riyadh’s regional policies. The deal was brokered by China which further highlighted a weakening of the decades-long reliance on the United States by Persian Gulf Arab oil producers.

"As a result of our ongoing evaluation of effective security cooperation with all partners, two months ago, the UAE withdrew its participation in the Combined Maritime Forces," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement carried by state news agency WAM.

The Combined Maritime Forces is a 34-nation task force, headquartered at the US naval base in Bahrain, working on security, counterterrorism and counter-piracy in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf areas. But in fact, the US and Israel were trying to forge a regional coalition to contain Iran, including an air defense network.

The region contains some of the world's most important shipping routes where, since 2019, suspected Iranian attacks began against oil tankers amid tensions with the United States. The Obama, Trump and Biden administrations chose not to retaliate against Iranian naval provocations over the years or show a convincing military deterrent response.

Former President Donald Trump was said to have blinked when suspected Iranian drones and missiles hit Saudi oil facilities in September 2019, inflicting heavy damage. Reports at the time said that Trump changed his mind about a military response at the last minute.

The statement said the UAE was committed to dialogue and diplomatic engagement to advance regional security and stability, and that it was committed to ensuring navigation safety in its seas in accordance with international law.

However, five weeks ago, Iran seized two tankers within a week in Gulf waters near the Strait of Hormuz. The second tanker, the Niovi, had been travelling from Dubai toward the UAE's Fujairah port.

The UAE also said that a report by the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday which, citing US and Gulf sources, said the UAE was frustrated by the lack of US response to the recent tanker seizures, was a "mischaracterization" of conversations between the two countries.

However, the UAE decision to leave the maritime coalition and speak about “diplomatic engagement” - possibly referring to Iran - to enhance its security, shows that the WSJ report was not off the mark.

The UAE announcement will be seen in Tehran as a triumph, since the Iranian regime has proclaimed the goal of expelling the United States from the region to be at the top of its agenda.

The White House will face more domestic criticism by Republicans, who have already charged that the administration's flirtations with Iran to revive the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal, has driven the Saudis to seek alternative security arrangements.

Iran, however, might press its luck too hard. If Tehran was aware of the UAE decision, its new seizure of vessels in the Persian Gulf might demonstrate to the Emiratis that Tehran will not be satisfied with a more neutral UAE position and will use military force to further intimidate regional countries.

With reporting by Reuters

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