French Defence Minister Florence Parly yesterday took aim at “gradual US disengagement” in the Middle East and said its failure to respond to provocations blamed on Iran set off a dangerous chain of events.
Since May, tensions in the Gulf have escalated alarmingly with attacks against tankers, a US unmanned drone being downed, and strikes on key Saudi oil facilities in September. Iran was blamed but denied involvement.
Despite the attacks on its Saudi ally and having one of its own drones shot down, the United States has avoided equivalent retaliation.
“When the mining of ships went unanswered, the drone got shot. When that in turn went unanswered, major oil facilities were bombed. Where does it stop? Where are the stabilisers?” Parly asked at the annual Manama Dialogue on regional security.
“The region is accustomed to the ebb and flow of US involvement. But this time it seemed more serious.”
Speaking from the same stage in Bahrain, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir insisted there was no US withdrawal from the region and no doubt about its commitment.
“We believe the US is very dependable ally, and has been for the past seven decades” he said of its staunch ally.
Parly also homed in on strains on Nato, saying it remained the cornerstone of security in Europe but that it was “time to move from the brain-dead to the brainstorm”.
Meanwhile, Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri yesterday warned regional countries of unspecified dire consequences if it is proven that they meddled to stoke unrest in Iran, the semi-official news agency Fars reported.
“Some countries in the region should know that they will not have an easy life in the region if clues are found that show they intervened to create unrest in Iran,” said Jahangiri, quoted by Fars.
Iran has blamed “thugs” linked to exiles and foreign foes - the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia - for stirring up unrest following hikes in gasoline prices which led to the detention of about 1,000 demonstrators and some of the worst violence in a decade.
Relations between Iran and US and its Arab allies are at the lowest since US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Tehran’s economy.