Has Washington changed its strategy in the region?
"We opened, together with our American partners, the US military base, which is the first US military base in Israel." With these words, the Air Force commander of the Air Force of Israel, General Zvika Haymovits, announced the opening of the first permanent US military base in Israel after four years that left for its creation. And he also said: "The American flag is constantly fluttering over the US military base, located inside one of our bases."
"This step is not a direct response to a specific incident or potential threat, but is a set of lessons learned from the war in the Gaza Strip in 2014 and an analysis of future risks," said Haymowitz.
The creation of a joint US-Israeli military base, announced at a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, raised many questions about the motives for this step and the messages that it carries. Does Washington again review its strategic policy in the Middle East?
How about a new military base?
The US military base in the south of Israel began its work after four years, which went to create it. It includes units of US air defense for interception of missiles, equipped with advanced technical means in the field of communication and missile deterrence.
The idea of building an American base is the first of its kind in the occupied territories thanks to the efforts of Tel Aviv and Washington to eliminate the errors associated with containment and defense systems after allegations that some Israeli areas in recent years have been subjected to rocket attacks from the territory of Gaza, Sinai and Syria with the assistance of Iran and Hezbollah.
In addition, the weaknesses identified by the US-Israeli military exercises "Juniper Cobra" in March 2016, were one of the main motivations for the construction of this base, as Tel Aviv seeks to work out its actions in the context of extreme scenarios. Therefore, it was decided to create a platform for anti-missile defense in cooperation with the United States.
In addition, the base will be directly connected to the radar system protecting the nuclear reactor in Dimona, which is also used by the United States. The strengthening of the US in Israel is also indicated by the arrival of 1 July in Haifa by the US aircraft carrier George Bush, which was here last 17 years ago. On board the aircraft carrier was 80 fighter and helicopters, 5700 sailors and soldiers. His presence in the Israeli port raised many questions in the light of various versions regarding the nature of the mission carried out by the aircraft carrier.
Not the first
The American missile defense base in Israel is not the first of its kind in the region. The United States has many military bases in almost 130 countries around the world, but the countries of the Middle East are in priority for US military bases. Here is their list.
Currently in Saudi Arabia there are about 500 soldiers stationed at the US military base. During the war against Iraq, it was one of the headquarters of the US Air Force and had about five thousand troops, and more than 80 fighters were at the airbase of the "Prince of Sultan" in Riyadh. But in 2003 about 4,5 thousand US troops were moved from Saudi Arabia to other bases in Qatar.
America has many military bases in Qatar, including the base with the longest runway in the world. The capacity of the base is more than 100 aircraft. In its territory there are approximately 5 100 US troops, 4500 soldiers from Saudi Arabia and 600 from the Central Command of the US Armed Forces from Tampa, Florida.
The base is the headquarters for 319 units of military equipment, which includes bombers, fighter jets and reconnaissance aircraft, as well as tanks, military support units and a large number of advanced military equipment, making it the largest strategic repository of American weapons in the region.
United Arab Emirates
The UAE also has American airbases and military depots used for logistical support. Also in the UAE are two important seaports in the Persian Gulf, which are controlled by US forces, since they have important strategic importance for large military vessels.
In Kuwait, there is a military base called Camp Doha, which houses the 3 Infantry Division and a number of air forces with all equipment and weapons, including the M-1A12 tanks and the M-2A2 combat vehicles , along with military helicopters and more than 80 fighters. And also on the base there are some quickly deployed special-purpose units.
American strategic bomber B-52 "Stratofortress" at the air base of Al-Udeid in Qatar
In the capital of Bahrain is the fifth US Navy fleet - one of the largest American fleets in the Middle East, which includes about 4200 military personnel. In addition, on its territory is an American aircraft carrier, several submarines, destroyers, more 70 fighters, bombers, tactical fighters and refueling planes stationed at the airbase Sheikh-Is.
America has an airbase in the Sultanate of Oman, with B1 bombers and refueling planes. This base is important for Washington as a multi-purpose air support center.
In the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, there are two air bases: Ruwaysid and Wadi al-Marabba. On them are American fighters, as well as the 22-I naval expeditionary group.
Egypt is an important strategic asset for the US, especially with respect to seaports that can be used to move US naval vessels and change their location during any US military operations in the region. In addition, America has an air base west of Cairo, used by the US Air Force to refuel aircraft and carry air traffic.
In Iraq, there is the largest number of US military bases from 2003 to the present. Although there is no official record of these bases, military experts pointed to the presence of almost 75 US military bases in various cities of Iraq, most of which were linked to the regime of Saddam Hussein and were once occupied by American troops.
Soldiers of the US Army leave the military base in Iraq
Here is the question: if the US has so many military bases in the region, what are the real motives for creating a new base in Israel? Does this mean a change in the US strategy in the region?
Growth of Russian influence
Over the past four years, Russia has shown itself in the Middle East as one of the most influential players. Especially thanks to Syria, which was used to restore a key military role, comparable to that of Washington and NATO in Europe and the world.
Russian military expansion in the Eastern Mediterranean basin, in particular, is part of the strategy pursued by Moscow in recent times, which is reflected in the creation of a naval base in Tartus and the airbase "Khmeimim" in the province of Latakia. In addition, there are rumors of renting a naval base in Egypt, which causes concern for the US administration.
Perhaps the first motive for creating an American base in Israel is connected with the spread of Russia's influence in the Middle East.
Moscow is well aware of the strategic importance of the Middle East region. Despite the justification for its presence in Syria as a fighter against terrorism and the expansion of extremist elements, its interests go further. They are associated with oil and gas, a share Moscow wants to have on the one hand, and with the protection of its national interests through a military presence in the region, on the other.
In an interview with Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat, Russian political scientist and former diplomat Vyacheslav Matuzov stated his doubts about Moscow's attempts to promote its ideology through expansion in the eastern Mediterranean, saying: "Russia's priority is to protect its national security." He noted that the Middle East is "the first line of defense of Moscow."
"In 1990, Russia encountered extremists in Chechnya. Today, IGIL and Al-Qaeda are trying to expand their influence in areas close to Russia. We see that these organizations are aimed at Europe and Turkey, and they represent a threat, therefore Russia is forced to show interest in the fight against international terrorism, "Matuzov defended his country's presence in the region.
Perhaps the first motive for the creation of the American base in Israel is connected with the strengthening of Russia's influence in the Middle East, which causes concern. This concern can be exacerbated by the expansion of the influence of Iran and its Hezbollah military unit both inside Syria and Yemen, which is a headache for the government of Donald Trump, on the one hand, and Binyamin Netanyahu on the other.
Perhaps this concern prompted the US administration to reconsider its regional strategy in the Middle East and again to reflect on the statements that the US was completely withdrawing from the region, as reported during the reign of Barack Obama.
A feature of the new US strategy in the Middle East against Russian-Iranian influence is the appointment of General Herbert Raymond McMaster as an adviser to the US president for national security, replacing Michael Flynn, who resigned after accusations of ties with Moscow.
The choice of McMaster for this post has many reasons. He is one of the pragmatists in foreign policy and opposes the expansion of Russia and Iran in Europe and the Middle East. He worked for two years on the strategy of the US Department of Defense on countering Russian land forces and ambitions in Eastern Europe and spent some time in Ukraine with this purpose.
McMaster is not against giving the US allies in the Middle East armed forces to fight terrorist organizations and countering the ambitions of Russia, Iran and China in the region that previously warned of their ambitions aimed at "forming a geopolitical crossroads against American interests." McMaster said: "They are robbing the land, terrorizing allies, using proxy armies and other forces to challenge the international political system after World War II"
Despite the proximity of US President Donald Trump to Moscow and its president Vladimir Putin, as evidenced by his statements during the campaign, America's main interests are determined by other authorities that have an excellent opinion from the leadership of the country on a number of positions. This includes, among other things, the expulsion of a number of Russian diplomats from the United States and the coercion of right-hander Trump Michael Flynn to step down as US national security adviser because of his relations with Russia. The US president himself is forced to work with them to fight against Russian expansion in the Middle East.
Defense of Israel's National Security
The US military presence and the changing strategy of the White House in the region primarily concern the national security of Israel, especially if the interests of both countries converge.
On the one hand, America is concerned about the growth of Russian-Iranian influence in Syria, as well as Turkey's entry into the struggle for influence and tightening control over certain northern regions of the country, and on the other hand it also worries about Israel, especially after Iran threatened to launch missiles on Tel Aviv .
Israel is trying to ensure the security of its situation, which explains the accusations of Damascus in a number of air raids on the positions of the forces of the Syrian regime in September, during which two people were killed who specialize in chemical research.
28 August 2017, Prime Minister of Israel Binyamin Netanyahu accused Iran of constructing facilities in Syria and Lebanon, which will be used as a platform for launching high-precision guided missiles in Tel Aviv. This prompted him to preempt the threat and make a series of air strikes against Syrian targets only a month after the statements.
The new American base in Israel, which is the only foreign base located in the occupied territories, barely reveals the specifics of the new strategy adopted by Washington in the coming period and imposed by recent events in the region that have significantly changed the political map and the alliance system.
The United States is striving for a strategic balance to maintain its national security through a military presence in this troubled region that may be needed in the future. This forces them to control the territory and not leave the arena empty for their Russian and Iranian opponents.
Steps taken by Moscow and Tehran in the region in recent years, whether through Syria or Yemen, worry Tel Aviv - Washington's first ally in the region, which is concerned about this expansion, as well as recent crises, especially the problem of Iraqi Kurdistan. The main motivation for America is to maintain its presence near Syria, Jordan and the port of Aqaba and the creation of new military bases, beginning with the occupied territories.