The US State Department approved Kuwait’s request for $1.425 billion in upgrades for the Gulf country’s Patriot missile defense systems.
Why it matters: Thursday’s sale approval comes on the heels of a US Navy contract awarded to Boeing to build more than a thousand land-attack and anti-ship cruise missiles for Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In a statement, the US Defense Security Cooperation agency said the Patriot upgrade will help Kuwait defend its “critical oil and natural gas infrastructure.”
The United States has sought over the last decade to integrate the missile defenses of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries with limited success. Iran, which has perhaps the largest ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East, has continued to test and develop conventional ballistic missiles since the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, which does not explicitly forbid such activities.
The Donald Trump administration’s 2018 withdrawal from the deal and wave of economic sanctions on Iran have brought the United States and Iran to the brink of military confrontation in the Middle East, culminating in the US military killing senior Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad.
Some experts have argued that Washington’s sale of advanced Patriot and THAAD missile defense systems to GCC countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar has encouraged Iran to develop smaller, cheaper projectiles such as suicide drones and low-flying cruise missiles that can’t readily be stopped by such systems.
The effectiveness of Iran’s smaller projectiles went on full display last year when a flurry of cruise missiles and drones smashed into Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq and Khurays oil processing facilities, an attack the United States blamed on Iran.
What’s next: A top US general said in March that he believed killing Soleimani had sent a clear signal to Tehran to stop its strikes in the region. Washington then pulled two of its own Patriot systems out of Saudi Arabia earlier this month.
The behavior of Iran’s proxies is less predictable. Iran-linked militias in Iraq continued to launch rocket attacks on US facilities after Soleimani’s death, and Houthi rebels in Yemen launched their latest ballistic missile attack into Saudi Arabia earlier this week.
Know more: Bryant Harris reports that an investigation into an $8 billion emergency arms sale to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates helped lead Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to push Trump to fire the State Department’s inspector general, Steve Linick.