WASHINGTON — US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel praised the “cooperative defense network” being constructed by the Pentagon across the Middle East as a way to keep Iran’s nuclear ambitions in check.
Fresh off a trip to the region last month, which included stops in Israel, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Egypt, Hagel touted the robust US military presence in the region, which includes the deployment of some of DoD’s most high-end weapons, including the F-22 jet fighter, ballistic missile defense ships and sophisticated radars, mine countermeasure assets, and advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft.
“A key element of our efforts to counter Iranian threats is building a cooperative defense network, raising the military capabilities of our partners in the gulf who share our commitment to regional security and our concerns about Iran and violent extremism on the Arabian Peninsula,” Hagel said Thursday during a speech at a dinner hosted by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Prior to Hagel’s trip, DoD announced it was finalizing $10 billion in weapons sales to Middle East partners, including radars, the V-22 Osprey and aerial refueling tankers for Israel, F-16 fighter jets for the UAE, and air-launched missiles for Saudi Arabia, which is already buying US-made F-15 fighters.
“A robust U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf has been a priority for the department,” Hagel said. “Even as the number of U.S. troops in the region has decreased since the end of the Iraq war, even though that has been the case, we have made a determined effort to position high-end air, missile defense and naval assets to deter Iranian aggression and respond to other contingencies.”
The US operates out of a number bases in the region and maintains a significant Army presence in Kuwait.
“Even as we put our presence on a more sustainable, long-term footing, our capabilities in the region will far exceed those that were in place Sept. 11, 2001,” Hagel said. “Our defense relationships are also much stronger and far more robust.”