The United States is sending hundreds of troops to Saudi Arabia in what is intended as the latest show of force toward Iran, two Defense Department officials said Wednesday.
The roughly 500 troops are part of a broader tranche of forces sent to the region over the past two months after tensions between Washington and Tehran escalated.
Since May, a spate of attacks have left six oil tankers damaged in the Gulf of Oman, with Washington accusing Tehran of inciting them. Iranian officials have denied that claim. The downing of an American drone in June by an Iranian surface-to-air missile only heightened tensions, prompting President Trump to approve military strikes against Iran before abruptly pulling back.
With a growing number of US troops in Saudi Arabia, the US will be well positioned to launch offensive attacks against Iran in any future war, as well as carry out defensive operations to protect Saudi Arabia and essential infrastructure from retaliation.
This most recent alleged attack, along with a series of questionable incidents in the Persian Gulf have afforded the US justification however tenuous to further build up its military presence along Iran's peripheries it otherwise would have had to carry out in an openly provocative and unjustified manner.
It was just these sort of provocations that were described for years by US policymakers who sought to "goad" Iran into war with the West.
For example, in a 2009 Brookings Institution paper titled, "Which Path to Persia? Options for a New American Strategy toward Iran," US policymakers would openly admit (emphasis added):
"it would be far more preferable if the United States could cite an Iranian provocation as justification for the airstrikes before launching them. Clearly, the more outrageous, the more deadly, and the more unprovoked the Iranian action, the better off the United States would be. Of course, it would be very difficult for the United States to goad Iran into such a provocation without the rest of the world recognizing this game, which would then undermine it.
However beneficial this campaign of provocations may be for US foreign policy objectives, neither possibility a provoked reaction from the Houthis or Iran or a staged attack organized by the US bodes well for those ruling in Riyadh.
For Washington's allies the fact that they are just as likely or more likely to receive a devastating attack from the US itself than from their actual enemies all to trigger an even more devastating war they will find themselves in the middle of is added incentive for nations like Saudi Arabia to take the extended hands of future potential allies like Russia and China, and begin walking down a new and different path.
Only time will tell how far Saudi Arabia is willing to go down its current path, and how much they are willing to risk doing so, before they join the growing list of nations departing from America's unipolar global order and choosing a more equitable multipolar future.
Whether the US and Saudi Arabia finally provoked genuine attacks from nations they've purposefully goaded for years, or staged the attacks themselves, a dangerous course toward war has been set and a course the rest of the world must now work hard to steer away from.