The Biden administration is postponing a series of military meetings with allies in the Middle East, stoking concerns in Congress that the United States is shying away from confronting Iran’s regional terrorism network.
The United States-Gulf Cooperation Council Working Group, a regional alliance that includes Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern allies, was scheduled to meet on Oct. 17 about improving integrated air and missile defense systems, which have served as a key line of defense for allies against Iranian attacks. The White House National Security Council, however, has decided to delay the meetings amid a standoff between President Joe Biden and Saudi Arabia over oil production. The cancellation of these security meetings is believed to be punishment for reduced oil output by the Saudis and OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote to the White House on Wednesday warning it that delaying these security meetings will embolden Iran’s terrorism enterprise and set back years of security progress with the United States’ Middle Eastern allies.
Integrated air defenses in the region have served as a primary bulwark against Iranian terror attacks, which have targeted Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other U.S. allies. Delaying meetings aimed at strengthening this infrastructure will also impact Israel, which has begun to work on security issues with its former Arab foes since the Abraham Accords peace agreements were inked during the Trump administration.
"Disrupting this momentum delays partner capacity building, worsens regional security, and aids our adversaries," Ernst wrote. "It also damages trust by conditioning regional security on resolution of broader political and energy disputes, a poor precedent. As the security partner of choice, the United States should reliably implement defense efforts and proceed with the [U.S. Gulf Coordination Council] integrated air and missile defense working group without delay."
The Biden administration is also sending a message to Iran that its attacks on U.S. allies will not be met with force. The delay of these meetings also comes as Iran prepares to hold a series of war drills along its northern border.
"Iran and its armed proxies continue to project malign influence throughout the Middle East, actions that threaten U.S. partners and continue to pose risks to the American homeland," Ernst wrote. "Tehran has been responsible for hundreds of attacks against Gulf partners since 2015."
Iran’s ability to "strike civilian targets and wreak havoc in the region and beyond continues to grow as well," according to the senator.
Tehran’s Air Force recently inked a deal with Russia to buy advanced fighter jets, the largest military purchase of this nature in the region in 30 years. After the deal was announced, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps "unveiled an advanced patrol-combat vessel armed with vertical launch missiles, extending its operational reach."
It is these types of advancements that the Gulf security alliance is meant to combat.
"The United States," Ernst told the White House, "must continue to convene partners, reinforce security dialogue, and develop defense concepts to counter these growing threats."