Biden retreated to the White House after his regional tour of the Middle East with few certainties and too many doubts. His administration's intention was to stage Washington's geopolitical comeback in the region, which had been blurred since the abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan, in a context conditioned by the incipient energy crisis and the bitter rivalry of its partners, Israel and Saudi Arabia, with Iran and its like-minded militias. The US president opted for a decisive return, with guarantees, that would dispel doubts and iron out differences with the Riyadh regime, which he even branded an "international pariah" in 2019, before entering the Oval Office.
After a few days, the results of Biden's trip are emerging despite initial doubts.
The US Navy docked on Tuesday in the Saudi port of Yanbu, a coastal city on the Red Sea more than 300 kilometres from Jeddah, the place where Biden and Mohammed bin Salman clashed fists a few weeks ago. There, the Saudi Naval Force awaited, ready to launch 'Native Fury 22', a naval manoeuvre aimed at coordinating joint combat capabilities. This is the eighth edition of this biannual exercise, in which the US usually involves the Gulf monarchies. Riyadh has not participated in the exercise for nearly a decade.
The manoeuvres will last for a few days and will take place in the provinces of Yanbu and Al-Kharj, according to local officials. The operation consists of "the rapid deployment and concentration of a Marine Air and Ground Task Force in a secure area, using inter-theatre airlift and forward-deployed maritime pre-positioning ships", according to Marine Corps Forces Central Command (CENTCOM).
Joint tactical, interoperability and logistical operations will also take place, similar to previous naval exercises in Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
The joint exercises come four weeks after Biden's regional tour, during which he also visited Israel and the Palestinian territories, and a week after his administration approved the sale of a new batch of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The Wahhabi kingdom will purchase 300 Raytheon-made Patriot missiles and other weaponry worth $3 billion, according to the terms of the deal. Biden's announcement to Congress came just 24 hours after the Saudi-led coalition pledged to the Houthis to extend a two-month ceasefire in Yemen.
US military sales fell to record lows in 2021 since Biden's inauguration. The Democrat pledged not to trade arms with Gulf partners Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, implicated in human rights violations in the Yemen war. However, his administration increasingly resembles his predecessors in terms of the volume and value of arms sales. In November, Biden lifted the veto following Saudi pressure and Iran's continued threats to its allies.
The de-escalation in Yemen, ratified with a new extension of the ceasefire by the parties, and the timid increase in crude oil production agreed by OPEC+, an organisation led by Riyadh, to minimally relax energy markets, have facilitated the reunion between Biden and Saudi Arabia's 'de facto' ruler, MBS. Moreover, the joint exercises underscore the resumption of their military cooperation to address shared threats in the region.
Coordinator Americas: José Antonio Sierra