West News Wire: A high-profile indication of the ongoing tension between Washington and a crucial Middle Eastern security partner, the UAE announced on Wednesday that it has left a US-led global security organisation that guards ships in the Gulf.
The UAE withdrew from the Combined Maritime Forces two months ago “as a result of our ongoing evaluation of effective security cooperation with all partners,” the Emirati Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Wednesday.
A day earlier, a Wall Street Journal article claimed that Emirati officials had complained to Washington about its lackadaisical response to the Iran’s seizure of two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The statement was made in response to that piece.
One oil tanker was seized on 27 April carrying oil from Kuwait to Houston, Texas, for Chevron.
The second tanker, Panama-flagged tanker Niovi, was sailing around the coast of the United Arab Emirates, from Dubai towards Fujairah, when it was stopped by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on 3 May.
That seizure, according to the WSJ, caused the UAE to worry that its waters would be considered dangerous to sail. The article, according to the UAE, “mischaracterizes” the conversations between US and Emirati officials.
However, the UAE is very sensitive to any indication of weakness.
The nation is made up of seven tiny monarchies, or emirates, which are coordinated by the emirate of Abu Dhabi. It has consistently outperformed its peers in the region thanks to a tough foreign policy and stringent security system, earning it the admiration of supporters and the epithet “little Sparta” while drawing condemnation from some human rights campaigners.
The UAE is a major oil producer, but its wealth is also due to its status as a “wheeling and dealing” hub where business can be conducted safely in a volatile region. Its economy has thrived recently and it has positioned itself as a neutral tax haven zone that has attracted everyone from western influencers to Russian tech workers and Indian moguls.
“This whole model is dependent on the safety, security and stability of people, flow of goods and commodities,” Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s ambassador to the UN, told the WSJ previously.
Washington and the UAE are partners in the fight against terrorism, but tensions have recently surfaced. While Washington has designated the UAE as a “country of focus” in an effort to crack down on Moscow’s sanctions evasion during the conflict in Ukraine, Abu Dhabi has moved closer to China and Russia.
Abu Dhabi, for its part, has been alarmed by what it perceives as Washington’s hesitant response to its security concerns.
Yemen’s Houthis launched a risky strike on Abu Dhabi in January. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the ruler of the Emiratis, is said to have been so incensed by the US response that he later turned down a phone call from President Joe Biden.
Later, Washington increased military patrols and sent a vessel and fighter jets to the area. However, Officials working for the UAE were later shocked when the US asked that Abu Dhabi pay for added military assistance it received in the aftermath of a drone attack, according to Axios.
While analysts say the UAE views Iran as a major threat, it has recently moved to patch up ties with it, reappointing an ambassador this year. Abu Dhabi was also at the forefront of efforts to bring Syrian president and Iranian ally, Bashar al-Assad, back into the Arab fold, although Saudi Arabia has taken the lead more recently.
The Emirati pullout comes at an awkward time for the Biden administration, which earlier this month launched a new US Navy task force under the Combined Maritime Forces. The decision came as Washington looks to combat Iran in the region amid stalled nuclear talks and address allies’ concerns about its waning influence.
The Combined Maritime Forces are led out of Bahrain, which is home to the US 5th fleet. It counts 38 member nations including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Germany. The focus of the partnership is on combating maritime attacks on commercial ships, weapons smuggling, and piracy.
A spokesperson for the Combined Maritime Forces said the UAE remains a partner nation, despite putting its participation on hold.