Middle East

The Middle East—strategically situated at the intersection of Europe, Asia, and Africa—has been an important focus for U.S. foreign policy for the past four decades. U.S. security relationships in the region are built on pragmatism, shared security concerns, and armament deals worth billions of dollars annually. The U.S. also maintains a long-term interest in the Middle East related to the region’s economic importance as the world’s primary source of oil and gas.

The region is home to a wide array of cultures, religions, and ethnic groups, including sizable populations of Arabs, Jews, Kurds, Persians, and Turks, among others. The region is home to the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, in addition to many smaller religions like the Bahá’í, Druze, Yazidi, and Zoroastrian faiths. It contains many predominantly Muslim countries as well as the world’s only Jewish state.

The Middle East is a deeply sectarian region. These longstanding sectarian divisions, exacerbated by religious extremists vying for power, are important aspects of many of the challenges faced today in the region. In some cases, these sectarian divides go back centuries. Contemporary conflicts, however, have less to do with these histories than with modern extremist ideologies and the fact that modern-day borders in the region often do not reflect the cultural, ethnic, or religious realities. The borders in the region today are the results of decisions taken by the British, French, and other powers during and soon after World War I as they dismantled the Ottoman Empire.1

In a way not understood by many in the West, religion remains a prominent, if not predominant, fact of life for the modern Middle East. At the heart of many of the region’s conflicts is the struggle within Islam between Sunnis and Shias. This struggle dates back to the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632 AD.2 The Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of the world’s Muslim population, hold power in most of the Arab countries in the Middle East.

But to see the current instability in the Middle East through the lens of a Sunni–Shia conflict does not show the full picture. The cultural and historical division between Persians and Arabs has reinforced the Sunni–Shia split. This Sunni Arab distrust of Persian/Shia Iran, compounded by clashing national and ideological interests, has fueled instability in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria.

In addition to cultural and religious differences, current regional demographic trends also are destabilizing factors. The Middle East contains one of the world’s youngest and fastest-growing populations. In most of the West, this would be viewed as an advantage, but not in the Middle East. Known as “youth bulges,” these demographic tsunamis have overwhelmed the inadequate political, economic, and educational infrastructures in many countries in the region. The lack of access to education, jobs, and meaningful political participation fuels discontent. As over 40 percent of regional inhabitants are between the ages of 15 and 29, this demographic bulge will continue to have a substantial effect on political stability across the region.3

The Middle East contains more than half the world’s global oil reserves and is the chief oil-exporting region in the world. As the biggest oil consumer in the world, the U.S. has a vested interest in maintaining the free flow of oil and gas from the region. This is true even though the U.S. actually imports relatively little of its oil from the region.4 Oil is a fungible commodity, and the U.S. economy remains vulnerable to sudden spikes in world oil prices.

Also, many U.S. allies are dependent on Middle East oil and gas so there is a second-order effect to the U.S. if supply from the Middle East is reduced or compromised. For example, U.S. ally Japan (the world’s 3rd largest economy) is the world’s largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) importer and, on average, an LNG ship enters Tokyo harbor every 20 hours. Qatar is the second largest supplier of LNG to Japan. Another U.S. ally in Asia, South Korea (the world’s 14th largest economy), is dependent on the Middle East for 87 percent of its crude oil imports (as of 2013). The U.S. might not be dependent on Middle East oil or LNG but the economic consequences arising from a major disruption to supplies would ripple across the globe.

The Middle East is also growing financial and logistics hubs along some of the busiest transcontinental trade routes in the world. One of the region’s economic bright spots in terms of trade and commerce is found in the Persian Gulf. The emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), along with Qatar, are competing to become the top financial center in the region. Like the rest of the world, the Middle East was hit by the global financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent recession, but many oil-exporting countries have made an economic recovery due to high oil prices. Even so, the Middle East is full of economic extremes, for example:

Qatar is the world’s wealthiest country in terms of GDP per capita while Yemen, a mere 700 miles away (roughly the distance between New York City and Atlanta) ranks 151st in the world.

Saudi Arabia has 265 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. It shares a nearly 500-mile-long border with Jordan, but Jordan has just 1 million barrels of proven oil reserves.

According to the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, published by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, Bahrain ranks 13th in the world in terms of economic freedom while Iran ranks 173rd.5

These disparities are worsened by government corruption across most of the region, which not only squanders economic resources, but also restricts economic competition and hinders the development of free enterprise.

The economic situation, in part, drives the political environment in the region. The lack of economic freedom was an important factor leading to the Arab Spring uprisings. The uprisings have disrupted economic activity, depressed foreign and domestic investment, and slowed economic growth. This was the case when international investors started to shun unstable Bahrain, rocked hard by the Arab Spring protests, for the stability of the UAE in 2011.6

The political environment has a direct bearing on how easily the U.S. military can operate in a region. In many Middle Eastern countries, the political situation remains fraught with uncertainty. The Arab Spring uprisings that began in early 2011 have formed a regional sandstorm that has eroded the foundations of many authoritarian regimes, erased borders, and destabilized many countries in the region. Even so, the popular uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen have not ushered in a new era of democracy and liberal rule, as many in the West were hoping. At best, these uprisings made slow progress toward democratic reform. At worst, these uprisings boosted political instability, exacerbated economic problems, and contributed to the rise of Islamist extremists.

The region is not short of security challenges for the U.S. and its allies. Iran uses Shia-Sunni sectarian divisions to exploit instability in neighboring Arab states and in Afghanistan. Tehran has exacerbated Shia-Sunni tensions to increase its influence over embattled regimes in the region. Tehran attempts to run an unconventional empire by exerting great influence over sub-state entities like Hamas (Palestinian territories), Hezbollah (Lebanon), Mahdi movement (Iraq), Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, and the Houthi insurgents (Yemen). In Afghanistan, Tehran exerts influence over the Shiite Hazara population, which was persecuted under the Taliban. Iran also provided arms to the Taliban after it was ousted from power by a U.S.-led coalition.7 The Afghan city of Herat, near the Iranian border, has long been considered by Tehran to be part of its sphere of influence.

Iran has continued its military buildup, including ballistic missiles that pose a growing threat to Israel and at least four NATO allies in southwestern Europe—not to mention the tens of thousands of U.S. troops based in the region.8 Tehran also has threatened to disrupt the flow of oil and LNG from the Persian Gulf if it becomes embroiled in a war against the U.S. or Israel.

In Syria, the Assad regime’s brutal repression of the peaceful demonstrations in early 2011 ignited a fierce civil war that has led to the deaths of more than 190,000 people and displaced about 2.5 million refugees in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq.9 Another 6.5 million are internally displaced within Syria.10 The destabilizing spillover effect of this civil war in the region is obvious. In Jordan, where King Abdullah’s regime has been buffeted by Arab Spring protests and adverse economic trends, almost 10 percent of the population is now Syrian. This has placed even more strain on Jordan’s small economy, scarce water resources, and limited social services, creating rising resentment among the local population.

Thanks to the power vacuum created by the ongoing civil war in Syria, Islamist extremist groups, including the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front and the self-styled Islamic State (IS), formerly known as ISIS or ISIL and prior to that as al-Qaeda in Iraq, have carved out extensive sanctuaries where they are training militants from a wide variety of other Arab countries, Europe, and even the United States.

In late 2013, the IS exploited the Shia-dominated Iraqi government’s heavy-handed alienation, marginalization, and repression of the Sunni Arab minority in Iraq to move back across the border to seize territory in Iraq. By June 2014, the IS spearheaded a broad Sunni uprising against Baghdad that expelled Iraqi security forces from areas predominantly populated by Sunni Arabs in northwestern Iraq, including Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. In Syria and Iraq, the IS now controls an area the size of Maryland. The peshmerga militia of the Kurdistan Regional Government, an autonomous area in northeastern Iraq, took advantage of the chaos caused by the collapse of the Iraqi security forces and occupied the city of Kirkuk—long considered by Kurds to be rightfully theirs—a claim long denied by the central government in Baghdad. The IS continues to attack the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, massacre Shia civilians and Sunnis that disagree with it, and terrorize religious and ethnic minorities in northern Iraq including the Christian community, ethnic Turkmen, and Yazidis.

Arab–Israeli tensions are another source of instability in the Middle East region. The repeated breakdown of Israeli–Palestinian peace negotiations and the ascension of the Hamas regime in Gaza in a 2007 coup have created an even more antagonistic situation. Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, seeks to transform the conflict from a national struggle over sovereignty and territory into a religious conflict in which compromise is denounced as blasphemy. Hamas invokes jihad in its struggle against Israel and seeks to destroy the Jewish state and replace it with an Islamic state.

Although elected to power with 44 percent of the vote in the 2006 elections, Hamas has since forced its radical agenda on the people of Gaza, which, in turn, has eroded its public support and led to a high degree of needless suffering. Hamas has provoked wars with Israel in 2008, 2009, 2012, and 2014. It continues to pose threats to Israel and to Arab leaders who have signed peace agreements with Israel (Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority). As long as Hamas remains imbued with its Islamist extremist ideology, which advocates the destruction of Israel, and retains a stranglehold over Gaza, a sustainable Israeli–Palestinian peace agreement is impossible.11

Important Alliances and Bilateral Relations in the Middle East

The U.S. has strong military, security, intelligence, and diplomatic ties with multiple Middle Eastern nations, including Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).12 Since the historical and political circumstances that led to the creation of NATO have largely been absent in the Middle East, the region lacks a similar collective security organization. Middle Eastern countries have traditionally preferred to have bilateral relationships with the U.S. and have shunned multilateral arrangements due to the lack of trust between Arab States.

Often, bilateral relationships between Arab Middle Eastern countries and Western countries, including the U.S., are secretive. The opaqueness of these relationships sometimes creates problems for the U.S. when trying to coordinate defense and security cooperation with European allies active in the region (mainly the U.K. and France).

Military training is an important part of these relationships. In 2013 alone, USCENTCOM has conducted 52 multilateral and bilateral training exercises with many of these allies and partners.13 The main motivation behind these exercises is to ensure close and effective coordination with key partners in the region and to train Arab armed forces so they can take a larger share of responsibility for regional security. The U.S. has had mixed results in this area.

Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar have participated in Combined Task Force-152, formed in 2004 to maintain maritime security in the Persian Gulf—with Bahrain having commanded the task force on two separate occasions.14 Middle Eastern countries have also participated further afield in Afghanistan. Since 2001, Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, and the UAE have supplied troops to the U.S.-led mission there. During the 2011 NATO-led operation in Libya, U.S. allies Qatar, Jordan, and the UAE participated to varying degrees.

However, there is still a high degree of reluctance in many Arab countries to tackle one of the region’s biggest security problems: the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. It is a major source of frustration for U.S. and Western policymakers that these countries often prefer that the U.S. and other Western powers deal with these matters on their behalf.

In addition to military training, U.S. defense relations are underpinned by huge defense equipment deals. Because much of it has been combat tested, U.S. military hardware (and to a lesser extent British and French hardware) is preferred across the region. For example, Kuwait, the UAE, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia have over 400 F-15, F-16, and F-18 jet fighter aircraft combined. In light of the Iranian missile threat, the UAE and Qatar have invested billions of dollars in the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system. In 2010, the U.S. signed a $60 billion armaments deal—its biggest ever—with Saudi Arabia.15 The use of U.S.-made hardware helps with interoperability and lays the foundation for longer-term engagement and cooperation in the region.

One source of strain in the relationship between the U.S. and its partners in the Middle East is over how best to halt Iran’s nuclear program. There is a concern in Israel and many Arab states that any deal with Tehran will fail to halt its drive for nuclear weapons, instead paving the way for a détente between the U.S. and Iran that will expose U.S. allies to greater threats.16 Many U.S. allies in the region look at the U.S. treatment of Poland and the Czech Republic in 2009 after the abrupt cancellation of Phase-3 of the ballistic missile defense program in Europe—an ill-conceived effort to placate Russia ahead of the so-called Russian reset. Leaders in the Middle East, especially the Gulf, are concerned that they may receive similar treatment if the Administration seeks an accommodation with Iran over its nuclear program.

Israel. America’s most important bilateral relationship in the Middle East is with Israel. Both countries are democracies, value free-market economies, and believe in human rights at a time when many countries in the Middle East reject those values. Israel has been designated as a Major Non-NATO ally (MNNA)17 because of its close ties to the U.S. A sign of Israel’s importance to the United States is the fact that, since 1948, Washington has provided it with approximately $121 billion in foreign aid.18 With support from the United States, Israel has developed one of the world’s most sophisticated air and missile defense networks.19 No significant progress is possible on peace negotiations with the Palestinians or on stabilizing Israel’s volatile neighborhood, without a strong and effective Israeli–American partnership.20

Saudi Arabia. After Israel, the U.S. military relationship is deepest with the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia, which serves as de facto leader of the GCC. The United States started to play a more active role in the Persian Gulf after the United Kingdom completed the withdrawal of its military presence from bases “east of Suez” in 1971.

The United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia is based on pragmatism and is important for both security and economic reasons. The Saudis enjoy huge influence across the Muslim world. Roughly two million Muslims participate in the annual Hajj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. Saudi Arabia owns the world’s largest oil reserves and is the world’s foremost oil exporter. The uninterrupted flow of Saudi oil exports is crucial for fueling the global economy.

Riyadh is a key partner in containing Iran, safeguarding the security of its GCC allies, removing Syria’s Assad regime from power, and stabilizing Egypt and Yemen. Saudi Arabia also has played a growing role in fighting the al-Qaeda terrorist network. Until 2003, Riyadh was in denial about Saudi connections to the 9/11 attacks. However, after Saudi Arabia was targeted by al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on its own soil, the government began to cooperate more extensively in defeating the Islamist terrorists.21

Gulf Cooperation Council. The countries of the GCC (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) are at the epicenter of the Arab–Persian fault line, making them strategically important to the U.S.22 The root of the Arab–Iranian tensions in the Gulf is Tehran’s ideological drive to export its Islamist revolution and overthrow the traditional rulers of the Arab kingdoms. This ideological clash has further amplified the longstanding sectarian struggle between Shia and Sunni Islam. Tehran has sought to radicalize Shia Arab minority groups to undermine Sunni Arab regimes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Yemen. It also sought to incite revolts by the Shia majorities in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and in Bahrain, a constitutional monarchy ruled by the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty.

Culturally, many Iranians look down on the Gulf States, many of which they see as artificial states carved out of the former Persian Empire and propped up by Western powers. Longstanding Iranian territorial claims in the Gulf add to the Arab–Persian tensions in the region.23 For example, Iran has long considered Bahrain to be part of its territory. Iran also occupies the small but strategically important islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb near the Strait of Hormuz, which is claimed by the UAE.

The GCC often has problems agreeing on a common policy on matters of security. This reflects the organization’s intergovernmental nature and the desire of its members to place national interests above those of the GCC. Perhaps this is best demonstrated in the debates over Iran. On one end of the spectrum, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and to a lesser extent, the UAE are hawkish in how they see the threat from Iran. Oman and Qatar, both of which share natural gas fields with Iran, view Iran’s activities in the region as being less of a threat and maintain good relations with Tehran. Kuwait tends to fall somewhere in the middle. Inter-GCC relations can also be problematic. The UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia have been at loggerheads with Qatar regarding the latter’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which they see as a threat to internal security.

Apart from Bahrain, the countries of the GCC have weathered the political turbulence of the Arab Spring quite well. The citizens in this region enjoy a high standard of living (made possible by millions of foreign workers and the export of oil and LNG), which helps the locals tolerate authoritarian rule. In fact, during the early days of the Arab Spring, the then-Emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, quickly sided with opposition forces aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, Egypt, and Syria to demonstrate he was “on the side of the people.” This helped to ensure that Qatar’s ruling elite could be seen as supporting the oppressed masses across the region. Whether true or not, it has helped to stave off public protests in his emirate and boosted the popularity of the monarchy. Bahrain fared the worst of all the GCC states during the 2011 popular uprisings due to persistent Sunni-Shia sectarian tensions worsened by Iranian antagonism and the slow pace of social reform by the al-Khalifa monarchy.

Egypt. Egypt is also an important U.S. military ally. Egypt, as one of only two Arab countries (the other being Jordan) that have diplomatic relations with Israel, is closely enmeshed in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and remains a leading political, diplomatic, and military power in the region.

Relations between the U.S. and Egypt have been made problematic thanks in part to the 2011 downfall of President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years of rule. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was elected president in 2012 and used his Islamist-dominated parliament to pass a constitution that advanced an Islamist agenda. Morsi’s authoritarian rule, combined with rising popular dissatisfaction with falling living standards, rampant crime, and high unemployment, led to another massive wave of protests in June 2013 that prompted another military coup in July.

The leader of the coup, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, pledged to restore democracy and, in 2014, was elected president. Egypt’s new government faces major political, economic, and security challenges. Egypt’s limping economy has been badly damaged by three years of political turbulence and violence that has choked off tourism revenues, deterred foreign investment, and boosted the national debt.

The July 2013 coup against the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Morsi regime strained relations with the Obama Administration and resulted in a temporary hold on U.S. military assistance to Egypt. Cairo made its displeasure known by buying Russian arms financed by Saudi Arabia in late 2013,24 but bilateral relations have since improved after Egypt’s military made good on its promises to hold elections and return Egypt to a democratic path.

Lebanon and Yemen. The United States also has developed cooperative defense arrangements with the armed forces of Lebanon and Yemen, two states that face substantial threats from Iranian-supported terrorist groups as well as al-Qaeda. The United States has provided arms, equipment, and training for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). Washington’s security relationship with Yemen has grown since the 9/11 attacks. Yemen, Osama bin Laden’s ancestral homeland, faces major security threats from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the most dangerous al-Qaeda franchises. In recent years, the Pentagon and CIA have worked closely with the Yemeni Ministry of Defense and intelligence services to defeat this mutual threat.

Quality of Allied Armed Forces in the Middle East

The quality and capabilities of the allied armed forces in the region is mixed. While some countries spend billions of dollars each year on advanced Western military hardware, others spend very little. Defense spending in the Middle East overall increased by 4 percent in 2013 to an estimated $150 billion. Bahrain’s defense spending increased by 26 percent, while Iraq’s expenditure increased by 27 percent. In 2013, Saudi Arabia spent $67 billion on defense, pushing it ahead of the U.K. and France and placing it fourth in the world in terms of defense spending.25 Accurate defense spending figures for the Middle East have traditionally been very uncertain, but the lack of data has worsened recently. In 2013, there was no available data for Iran, Qatar, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, according to a report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.26

Different security factors drive the degree to which Middle Eastern countries train and arm their militaries. For Israel, which defeated Arab coalitions in wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982, it now is the threat to Israel’s existence posed by an Iranian regime that has called for Israel to be “wiped from the map.”27 As a result of Israel’s military buildup, states and non-state actors in the region have invested in asymmetric and unconventional capabilities to offset the imbalance created by Israel’s military superiority.28 For the Gulf States, the main driver is the military threat coming from Iran, and for Iraq, it is the internal threat posed by insurgents and terrorists that drives defense policy.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are widely considered the most capable military force in the Middle East. On a conventional level, the IDF consistently surpasses other regional military forces;29 however, other countries, such as Iran, have closed the gap in recent years.30 Nevertheless, the IDF’s quality and effectiveness are unparalleled with regard to both technical capacity and personnel.31 This has been recently demonstrated by Israel’s military operations in the Gaza strip: after weeks of conflict, the IDF mobilized over 80,000 reservists, a fact that demonstrates the depth of the Israeli armed forces.32

Israel heavily funds its military sector and has a strong national industrial capacity, supported by significant funding from the U.S.; combined, these factors give Israel a regional advantage despite limitations of manpower and size.33 In particular, the IDF has focused on maintaining its technical superiority in missile defense, intelligence collection, precision weapons, and cyber technologies.34 The emerging cyber capabilities of Israel are especially important to the state. Cyber technologies are used for a number of purposes, including defending Israeli cyberspace, gathering intelligence, and carrying out attacks.35 Israel maintains its qualitative superiority in medium and long-range missile capabilities.36 Israel also fields effective missile defense systems called the Iron Dome and Arrow, both of which the U.S. helped to finance.37

Additionally, Israel has a nuclear weapons capability, which it does not publicly acknowledge, that increases its strength relative to other powers in the region. Israel’s nuclear weapons capability has helped to deter adversaries as the conventional capabilities gap has been reduced.38

After Israel, the most technologically advanced and militarily capable armed forces are found in the GCC. The export of oil and gas means that there is no shortage of resources to devote to defense spending and the ever-present threat of Iran means there is no shortage of political will to invest in defense. Most staff officers are U.K. or U.S.-educated. Generally speaking, these are the best funded and trained forces in the region after Israel.

Although the GCC has a military arm called the Peninsula Shield Force (PSF), it has had only modest operational success. It has never met its stated ambition of deploying tens of thousands of soldiers. Created in 1984, its main purpose today is to counter Iran’s military buildup and to help maintain security in light of the political turbulence resulting from the Arab Spring. The PSF first deployed a modest force of 3,000 troops to help liberate Kuwait during the first Gulf War. Its most recent deployment was to Bahrain in 2011 to help restore order after Iranian-backed Shiite protests brought the country to a standstill and threatened the monarchy there.39 Internal divisions inside the GCC, especially among Qatar, UAE, and Saudi Arabia, prevented the PSF from playing a more active role in the region.

As with all intergovernmental organizations, the strength of the PSF is derived from the individual members. All GCC members boast advanced defense hardware with a preference for U.S., U.K., and French equipment. Saudi Arabia maintains the most capable military force in the GCC. It has an army force of 75,000 soldiers and a National Guard of 100,000 ground soldiers reporting directly to the King. The army operates 600 main battle tanks including 200 U.S.-made M1A1s. Its air force is built around American and British platforms and consists of more than 300 combat capable aircraft including F-15s, Tornados, and Typhoons.40 These were put to use with limited success in northern Yemen against Houthi rebels in 2009–2010.41 Both Saudi Arabia42 and the UAE43 also keep hundreds of Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles (known as Black Shaheen in the UAE) in their inventories. These weapons proved highly effective when the British and French used them during the air campaign over Libya in 2011.

In fact, air power is the strong suit of most GCC members. Oman operates F-15s and is planning to purchase British Typhoons. The UAE operates the F-16E/F “Desert Falcon” which is even more advanced than any variant of the F-16 the U.S. operates.44 Qatar operates French-made Mirage fighters. Both deployed fighters to participate in NATO-led operations in Libya in 2011—although they did not participate in strike operations. The navies of the GCC members rarely deploy beyond their Exclusive Economic Zones, but all members, other than Oman, have participated in regional combined task forces led by the U.S.45

Even with the billions of dollars invested each year by members of the GCC, most are quite happy to continue their dependence on the U.S. for their main security needs. As former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates once noted, the Saudis will “fight the Iranians to the last American.”46

Egypt’s military is the largest force in the Middle East at about 450,000 total personnel.47 It possesses a fully operational military with an army, air force, air defense, navy, and multiple Special Forces units. Until 1979, when the U.S. began to supply Egypt with military equipment, Cairo relied primarily on less capable Soviet military technology.48 Since then, its army and air force have been significantly upgraded with U.S. military weapons, equipment, and warplanes.

Obsolete platforms and poor systems integration constrain Egypt’s Air Force, and although it has large inventories few platforms are advanced or state-of-the-art.49 Additionally, Egypt boasts substantial manpower, but its quality is limited by conscription and an absence of recent combat experience.50

The make-up and authority of the Egyptian Armed Forces are significantly different from those of the Hosni Mubarak era. Instead of a centralized government with substantial control over the various aspects of power, the government became fractured under President Morsi and the military, police, and judiciary predominantly acted independently.51 After the ouster of former President Morsi, the Egyptian Armed Forces reclaimed primary control over the country.52

U.S. influence over Egypt is primarily derived through military aid, which was withheld in some areas after the 2013 military coup.53 This indefinite hold applies to Apache attack helicopters; F-16s, Harpoon ship-to-ship missile systems, and M1A1 tank kits.54 Furthermore, since Egypt relies upon U.S. assistance to combat Islamist militants and terrorists, the ability of the military to effectively contain Islamist terrorists will be undermined without American aid.55 Washington’s withholding of some U.S. military assistance in 2013 prompted Cairo to diversify its sources of arms. In February 2014, Egypt signed a deal to purchase weapons from Russia, including attack helicopters and air-defense systems.56

Jordan is a close U.S. ally with a small but highly effective military force. The force drivers for the Jordanian military are the spillover from fighting in Syria and Iraq. While it faces few conventional threats from its neighbors, Jordan’s internal security is being undermined by Islamist extremists returning from fighting in the region who have been emboldened by the growing influence there of al-Qaeda and other Islamist militants. As a result, Jordan’s highly professional armed forces have been focused almost exclusively in recent years on border and internal security.57 Even so, Jordan’s conventional capability is significant considering its size. The land forces total 75,000 soldiers and include 390 British made Challenger 1 tanks. The backbone of its air force is the F-16.58 The Jordanian Special Forces are very capable, having benefitted from extensive U.S. and U.K. training. Jordanian forces have served in Afghanistan and participate in numerous U.N.-led peacekeeping operations.

Current U.S. Military Presence in the Middle East

The United States maintained a minimal military presence in the Middle East before 1980, chiefly a small naval force based in Bahrain since 1958. The U.S. “twin pillar” strategy relied on pre-revolutionary Iran and Saudi Arabia to take the lead in defending the Persian Gulf from the Soviet Union and its allies in Iraq, Syria, and South Yemen.59 But the 1979 Iranian revolution demolished one pillar, and the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan boosted the Soviet threat to the Gulf. President Jimmy Carter proclaimed in January 1980 that the United States would take military action to defend oil-rich Persian Gulf States from external aggression, a commitment known as the Carter Doctrine. In 1980, he ordered the creation of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF), the precursor to USCENTCOM. In January 1983, USCENTCOM formally succeeded the RDJTF.60

Up until the late 1980s, a possible Soviet invasion of Iran was the most significant threat facing the U.S. in the Middle East.61 After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime became the chief threat to regional stability, and Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

The United States responded by assembling an international coalition of more than 30 nations to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait in January 1991. CENTCOM commanded the U.S. contribution of more than 532,000 military personnel to the coalition armed forces, which totaled at least 737,000.62 This time period represents the peak of U.S. force deployment in the Middle East region.

Confrontations with Iraq continued throughout the 1990s due to Iraqi violations of the 1991 Gulf War ceasefire. Baghdad’s failure to cooperate with U.N. arms inspectors to verify the destruction of its weapons of mass destruction and its consistent support of terrorism led to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. During the initial invasion, U.S. forces reached nearly 150,000, joined by military personnel from coalition forces. Apart from the “surge” in 2007, when President Bush sent in an additional 30,000 troops to Baghdad, American combat forces in Iraq fluctuated between 100,000 and 150,000.63 In December 2011, the U.S. officially completed its withdrawal of troops, leaving only 150 personnel attached to the U.S. embassy in Iraq.64

After the withdrawal from Iraq, the U.S. has continued to maintain a limited number of forces in the Middle East. The bulk of these troops are based in GCC countries. In 2014, there were approximately 35,000 U.S. military personnel operating in the Middle East, but the exact disposition is not made public due to political sensitivities in the region.65

Information gleaned from open sources shows the following:

  • Kuwait. There are approximately 15,000 U.S. troops based in Kuwait.66 These troops are spread among Camp Arifjan, Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base, and Ali Al Salem Air Base.
  • UAE. According to UAE and U.S. officials, there are about 5,000 U.S. troops, mainly Air Force personnel, stationed at Al Dhafra Air Base. The main mission for U.S. troops in the UAE is to operate refueling and surveillance aircraft. In April 2012, the United States reportedly deployed several F-22 Raptor combat aircraft to Al Dhafra.67
  • Oman. Since 2004, Omani facilities reportedly have not been used for air support operations in either Afghanistan or Iraq, and the numbers of U.S. military personnel in Oman have fallen to about 200, mostly from the U.S. Air Force. The United States reportedly can use—with advance notice and for specified purposes—Oman’s military airfields in Muscat (the capital), Thumrait, and Masirah Island.68
  • Bahrain. The longest serving permanent U.S. military presence in the Middle East is found in Bahrain, and today some 7,000 U.S. military personnel are based there. Bahrain is home to the Naval Support Activity Bahrain and the U.S. Fifth Fleet so the majority of U.S. military personnel are predominantly from the U.S. Navy. In addition, there are a significant number of U.S. Air Force personnel operating out of Shaykh Isa Air Base, where F-16s, F-18s, and P-3 surveillance aircraft are stationed.69 The deep-water port of Khalifa bin Salman is one of the few facilities in the Gulf that can accommodate U.S. aircraft carriers.
  • Saudi Arabia. The U.S. withdrew the bulk of its troops from Saudi Arabia in 2003. Little information on the number of U.S. military personnel currently based there is available. However, elements of the U.S. 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, along with the six-decade-old United States Military Training Mission to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the four-decade-old Office of the Program Manager of the Saudi Arabian National Guard Modernization Program, and the five-year-old Office of the Program Manager–Facilities Security Force are all based in Eskan Village Air Base, approximately 13 miles south of the capital city, Riyadh.70
  • Qatar. It is thought that thousands of U.S. troops are based in Qatar, mainly from the U.S. Air Force. The U.S. operates its Combined Air Operations Center out of Al Udeid Air Base, which is one of the most important U.S. airbases in the world. Al Udeid Air Base also serves as the forward headquarters of CENTCOM. In addition, the base houses significant pre-positioned equipment for the U.S. military.
  • Jordan. Although there are no permanent U.S. military bases in Jordan, the U.S. has a long history of conducting training exercises in the country. Due to recent events in neighboring Syria, 1,500 American soldiers, a squadron of F-16s, and a Patriot Missile Battery have been temporarily based in Jordan.71
  • Iraq. In December 2011, the number of U.S. troops in Iraq was reduced to 150 personnel to protect the U.S. embassy. However, since the invasion of northwestern Iraq by the Islamic State, U.S. troop numbers in the country have gradually been increasing. As of September 2014, there were about 1,600 U.S. troops committed to train, support, and advise Iraqi security forces.72

In addition to permanently based U.S. troops in the Middle East, there have been media reports that the U.S. government operates a secret UAV base in Saudi Arabia from which drone attacks against militants in Yemen are launched.73 There are reports of an American base on Socotra Island, which is off the coast of Somalia and belongs to Yemen, being used for counter-terrorism operations off the Horn of Africa and Yemen.74

CENTCOM’s stated mission is to promote cooperation among nations, respond to crises, deter or defeat state and non-state aggression, support economic development, and, when necessary, perform reconstruction in order to establish the conditions for regional security, stability, and prosperity. This mission statement is supported by several focus area objectives. According to the 2014 CENTCOM Posture Statement submitted to Congress, the 10 focus areas are:75

  • Responsibly transition Operation Enduring Freedom and support Afghanistan as a regionally integrated, secure, stable, and developing country;
  • Prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and, as directed, disrupt their development and prevent their use;
  • Counter negative Iranian influence, while reducing and mitigating the negative impact of proxies;
  • Manage and contain the potential consequences of the Syrian civil war and other “fault line” confrontations across the Middle East to prevent the spread of sectarian-fueled radicalism threatening moderates;
  • Defeat al-Qaeda, deny violent extremists safe havens and freedom of movement, and limit the reach of terrorists;
  • Protect lines of communication, ensure free use of the global commons, and secure unimpeded global access for legal commerce;
  • Develop and execute security cooperation programs, leveraging military-to-military relationships that improve bilateral and multilateral partnerships, and build interdependent collective partnered “capacities”;
  • Lead and enable the continued development of bilateral and multilateral collective security frameworks that improve information sharing, integrated planning, security, and stability;
  • Shape, support, and encourage cross-combatant command, interagency, and partner/coalition programs and approaches, while making the best use of military resources; and,
  • Maintain and improve our ready and flexible headquarters, capabilities, protected networks, and forces enabled by required freedom of movement, access, and basing to support crisis response.

CENTCOM is supported by four service component commands and one subordinate unified command: U.S. Naval Forces Middle East (USNAVCENT), U.S. Army Forces Middle East (USARCENT), U.S. Air Forces Middle East (USAFCENT), U.S. Marine Forces Middle East (MARCENT), and U.S. Special Operations Command Middle East (SOCCENT).

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. USNAVCENT is the maritime component of USCENTCOM. Based in Bahrain, it is responsible for commanding the afloat units that rotationally deploy or surge from the United States, in addition to other ships that are based in the Gulf for longer periods. USNAVCENT conducts persistent maritime operations to advance U.S. interests, deter and counter disruptive countries, defeat violent extremism, and strengthen partner nations’ maritime capabilities in order to promote a secure maritime environment in an area encompassing about 2.5 million square miles of water area.

  • U.S. Army Forces Central Command. USARCENT is the land component of USCENTCOM. Based in Kuwait, it is responsible for land operations in an area encompassing 4.6 million square miles (1½ times larger than the continental U.S.).
  • U.S. Air Forces Central. USAFCENT is the air component of USCENTCOM. Based in Qatar, it is responsible for air operations and working with the air forces of partner countries in the region. Additionally, USAFCENT manages an extensive supply and equipment pre-positioning program at several regional sites.
  • U.S. Marine Forces Central Command. USMARCENT is designated as the Marine Corps service component for USCENTCOM. Based in Bahrain, it is responsible for all Marine Corps forces in the region.
  • U.S. Special Operations Command Central. SOCCENT is a subordinate unified command of USCENTCOM. Based in Qatar, it is responsible for planning special operations throughout the USCENTCOM region, planning and conducting peacetime joint/combined special operations training exercises, and orchestrating command and control of peacetime and wartime special operations.

In addition to the American military presence in the region, U.S. allies the United Kingdom and France play an important role in the region that should not be overlooked.

The U.K.’s presence in the Middle East is a legacy of its imperial rule. It has maintained close ties with many countries over which it once had heavy influence and has conducted military operations in the region almost regularly for decades. There are approximately 1,200 British service personnel based throughout the Gulf. The British presence in the region is dominated by the Royal Navy. In terms of permanently based naval assets in the region, there are four mine hunters and one Royal Fleet Auxiliary supply ship. Generally, there are two frigates or destroyers in the Gulf performing maritime security duties. Although such matters are not the subject of public discussion, one can only reasonably assume that U.K. attack-submarines also operate in the area. As a sign of the U.K.’s long-term maritime presence in the region, it recently broke ground on an $11 million new headquarters for its Maritime Component Command at Bahrain’s Salman Naval Base.76

The U.K. also has a sizeable Royal Air Force presence in the region—mainly in the UAE and Oman. A short drive from Dubai, Al-Minhad Air Base is home to a small contingent of U.K. personnel. An Expeditionary Air Wing recently stood up to support air transport links between the U.K. and deployed operations in the region and to provide logistical support to RAF assets visiting the region.77 The U.K. also operates small RAF detachments in Oman that support U.K. and coalition operations in the region. Although considered to be in Europe, the U.K.’s Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia that are located in Cyprus have supported U.S. military and intelligence operations in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

The British presence in the region extends beyond soldiers, ships, and planes. In Qatar, a British-run staff college recently opened, and Kuwait recently chose the U.K. to help run its own equivalent of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.78 The U.K. also plays a very active role in training the Saudi Arabian and Jordanian militaries.

The French presence in the Gulf is smaller than the U.K.’s but still significant. France opened its first military base in the Gulf in 2009 in Abu Dhabi in the UAE. This was the first foreign military installation built by the French in 50 years.79 In total, the French have 700 troops based in the country along with six Rafale jets.80 French ships have access to the Zayed Port, which is big enough to handle every ship in the French Navy except the aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle.

Key Infrastructure and Warfighting Capabilities

The Middle East is geographically situated in a critical location. Two-thirds of the world’s population live within an eight-hour flight from the Gulf region, making it easily accessible from most of the globe. The Middle East also contains some of the world’s most critical maritime chokepoints, like the Suez Canal and the Strait of Hormuz.

While infrastructure in the Middle East is not as developed as in North America or Europe, a decades-long presence in the Middle East means that the U.S. has tried and tested systems that involve moving large numbers of materiel and personnel into and out of the region. For example, according to the Department of Defense, at the height of U.S. combat operations in Iraq in the second Gulf War, there were 165,000 service members and 505 bases. Moving troops and equipment out of the country was an enormous undertaking, the largest logistical drawdown since the end of the World War II,81 which included the redeployment of more than four million pieces of equipment, 60,000 containers, and nearly 50,000 vehicles.”82 For nations where data are available, rail coverage is poor. For instance, Saudi Arabia only has 700 miles of rail. By comparison, Maryland, which is roughly 1.5 percent the size of Saudi Arabia, has about the same amount of rail.83 In Syria, three years of civil war have wreaked havoc on the nation’s rail system.84

Though only 45 percent of runways of the 1,135 airports in the region are paved, air traffic in the region is set to grow and, eventually, outpace world growth statistics. In an attempt to diversify their economies, some nations in the region have been upgrading their air transportation infrastructure to take advantage of their location for connecting flights, thus opening up a pseudo airport arms race. Qatar opened a brand new $15 billion airport in May 2014,85 Abu Dhabi International Airport is undergoing an expansion program expected to be completed in 2017, and Dubai’s International Airport is currently the seventh busiest airport in the world.86

The U.S. has access to several airfields in the region. The primary air hub for U.S. forces in the region is at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. Other airfields include: Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait; Al Dhafra, UAE; Al Minhad, UAE; Sheikh Issa, Bahrain; Eskan Village Air Base, Saudi Arabia; Muscat, Oman; Thumrait, Oman; Masirah Island, Oman, and use of the commercial airport at Seeb, Oman. In the past, the U.S. has used major airfields in Iraq, including the Baghdad International Airport and Joint Base Balad, as well as Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. Just because the U.S. has access to a particular airbase today does not mean it will be made available for a particular operation in the future. For example, is highly likely that Qatar and Oman would not allow the U.S. to use air bases in their territory for strikes against Iran.

The U.S. has excellent access to ports in the region, perhaps most importantly in Bahrain. In December 2013, the U.S. embarked upon a $580 million expansion project at Naval Support Activity Bahrain, to be completed in 2015.87 The U.S. also has access to a deep-water port, Khalifa bin Salman, in Bahrain, and reportedly to naval facilities at Fujairah, UAE.88 UAE’s commercial port of Jebel Ali is open for visits from U.S. warships and pre-positioning of equipment for operations in the theater.89

Approximately 90 percent of the world’s trade travels by sea, and some of the most important and busiest shipping lanes are located in the Middle East. For example, the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait combined have over 65,000 cargo ships travelling through them each year.90 With the high volume of maritime traffic in the Middle East region, no U.S. military operation can be undertaken without consideration of how these shipping lanes offer opportunity and risk to America and her allies. The major shipping routes include:

The Suez Canal. In 2013, 915.5 million tons of cargo transited the canal, averaging 45.5 ships transiting each day in 2013.91 Considering the canal itself is 120 miles long but only 670 feet wide, this is an impressive amount of traffic. The Suez Canal is increasingly important for Europe in terms of oil transportation. In 2013 (the year for which data are available), the Suez Canal saw an increase of 13.4 percent in terms of oil transportation from the prior year.92 The Canal also serves as an important strategic asset, as it is routinely used by the U.S. Navy to transition surface combatants between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. Thanks to a bilateral arrangement between Egypt and the United States, the U.S. Navy enjoys priority access to the canal. However, the journey through the narrow waterway is no easy task for large surface combatants. The canal was not constructed with the aim of accommodating 90,000-ton aircraft carriers and, therefore, exposes a larger ship to attack. For this reason, a variety of security protocols are followed—including the provision of air support by the Egyptian military.93

Strait of Hormuz. The Strait of Hormuz is a critical oil-supply bottleneck the represents the busiest passageway for oil tankers in the world. The strait links the Persian Gulf with the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. Nearly 17 million barrels of oil per day, nearly 20 percent of the world’s traded oil, pass through the strait, for an annual total of more than six billion barrels of oil. Most of these crude oil exports go to Asian markets, with Japan, India, South Korea, and China representing the primary destinations.94

The shipping routes through the Strait of Hormuz are particularly vulnerable to disruption, given the extremely narrow passage and its proximity to Iran. Tehran has repeatedly threatened to close the strategic strait in the event of a conflict. While attacking shipping in the strait would drive up the oil prices, Iran would also lose—both because it is dependent on the Strait of Hormuz to export its own crude oil and because it would undermine Tehran’s relations with oil importers such as China, Japan, and India.

Bab el-Mandeb Strait. The Bab el-Mandeb strait is a strategic waterway located between the Horn of Africa and Yemen that links the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. Exports from the Persian Gulf and Asia destined for Western markets must pass through the strait en route to the Suez Canal. The Bab al Mandeb Strait is 18 miles wide at its narrowest point, limiting passage to two channels for inbound and outbound shipments.95 Over the past decade, piracy off the coast of Somalia dominated the focus of international maritime security efforts. Recently, however, the frequency of pirate attacks in the region has dropped off—reaching the lowest point since 2006, according to the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB’s) global piracy report. Pirate activity, however, continues to threaten international trade and the safety of the international commons.96

Maritime Prepositioning of Equipment and Supplies. The U.S. military has non-combatant maritime prepositioning ships (MPS), containing large amounts of military equipment and supplies, in strategic locations from which they can reach areas of conflict relatively quickly, as associated U.S. Army or Marine Corps units located elsewhere arrive in the areas. The British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia, an island atoll, hosts the U.S. Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia, which supports prepositioning ships that can supply Army or Marine Corps units deployed for contingency operations in the Middle East.

Conclusion

For the foreseeable future, the Middle East region will remain a key focus for U.S. military planners. An area that was once considered relatively stable, mainly due to the ironfisted rule of authoritarian regimes, is now highly unstable and a breeding ground for terrorism.

Many of the borders created after World War I are disappearing. In places like Syria and Iraq, the supremacy of the nation-state is being challenged by non-state actors that wield influence, power, and resources comparable to small states. The main security and political challenges in the region are inextricably linked to the unfinished business of the Arab Spring, surging transnational terrorism, and the potential threat of a nuclear Iran. The aforementioned is made worse by the Arab–Israeli conflict, Sunni–Shia sectarian divides, and the rise of Persian nationalism.

Thanks to decades of U.S. military operations in the Middle East, the U.S. has tried and tested procedures for operating in the region. Bases and infrastructure are well established. The logistical processes to maintain a large force forward deployed thousands of miles away from the homeland are well in place. Unlike in Europe, all of these processes have been recently tested in combat. The personal links between allied armed forces are also present. Joint training exercises in the region improve interoperability, and U.S. military educational courses, which officers (and often royals) from the Middle East regularly attend, allow the U.S. to influence the future leaders of the region.

America’s relationships in the region fall narrowly, and pragmatically, along shared security and economic concerns. As long as these issues remain relevant to both sides, the U.S. is likely to have an open door to operate in the region when its national interests require it to do so.

Endnotes
  1. For example, Sir Mark Sykes, Britain’s lead negotiator with the French on carving up the Ottoman Empire in the Middle-East, during a 1916 meeting in Downing Street, pointed to the map and told the Prime Minister that for Britain’s sphere of influence in the Middle-East: “I should like to draw a line from the e in Acre [modern day Israel] to the last k in Kirkuk [modern day Iraq].” For more information see: James Barr, A Line in the Sand: Britain, France, and the Struggle that Shaped the Middle East (Great Britain: Simon and Schuster UK Ltd, 2011), pp. 7-20. See also, Margaret McMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (New York: Random House, 2003). []
  2. For an explanation of the origins of the Sunni–Shia division that arose after the death of the prophet Muhammad, see The Economist, “What Is the Difference Between Sunni and Shia Muslims,” May 28, 2013, (accessed January 15, 2015). []
  3. General Lloyd J. Austin III, “The Posture of U.S. Central Command,” testimony before the Committee on Armed Services, U.S Senate, 
March 6, 2014, pp. 6–7, (accessed July 24, 2014). []
  4. The U.S. only imports 40 percent of its oil needs. Of this, only 28 percent comes from the Middle East. Since 2005, U.S. oil imports have decreased year on year. See U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, “Energy in Brief: How Dependent Are We on Foreign Oil?” May 10, 2013, (accessed August 21, 2014). []
  5. Syria and Iraq are not scored in the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom. See Terry Miller, Anthony B. Kim, and Kim R. Holmes, 2014 Index of Economic Freedom (Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation and Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 2013), pp. 22–24, (accessed September 16, 2014). []
  6. Natsuko Waki, “A Scar on Bahrain’s Financial Marketplace,” Reuters, February 16, 2012, 
(accessed August 21, 2014). []
  7. BBC, “Hague Fury as ‘Iranian Arms’ Bound for Taliban Seized,” March 9, 2011, 
(accessed August 20, 2014). []
  8. The NATO members that fall within the range of Iran’s known missile capabilities are Turkey, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria. []
  9. Stephanie Nebehay, “Syrian Conflict Death Toll Exceeds 190,000, Says UN,” Irish Times, August 23, 2014, 
and “Syrian Warplane Bombing ‘Kills 20 Civilians’ in Homs,” Azeri-Press Agency, September 17, 2014, 
(accessed September 18, 2014). []
  10. Migration Policy Centre, “Syrian Refugees: A Snapshot of the Crisis—in the Middle East and Europe,” 
(accessed August 20, 2014). []
  11. James Phillips, “Gaza Crisis Illuminates a Grave New World,” Heritage Foundation Commentary, July 17, 2014, (accessed July 25, 2014). []
  12. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. []
  13. General Lloyd J. Austin III, “The Posture of U.S. Central Command.” []
  14. Combined Maritime Forces, “CTF-152: Gulf Maritime Security,” (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  15. Ian Black, “Barack Obama to Authorise Record $60bn Saudi Arms Sale,” The Guardian, September 13, 2010, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  16. James Phillips, “Obama’s Saudi Summit: Focus on Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Terrorism,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4184, March 27, 2014, 
(accessed September 16, 2014). []
  17. The MNNA designation was established during the dying days of the Cold War in 1989 to acknowledge American partners that contribute to U.S. security, defense, and broader geopolitical goals but are not members of NATO. The first tranche of countries to become MNNAs included South Korea, Israel, Egypt, Australia, and Japan. The most recent country to be awarded this title is Afghanistan, which was so designated in 2012 by President Barack Obama. []
  18. Jeremy M. Sharp, “U.S. Foreign Aid,” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, April 11, 2014, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  19. Pieter D. Wezeman, “Conventional Strategic Military Capabilities in the Middle East,” EU Non-Proliferation Consortium, July 2011. []
  20. James Phillips, “Threats Demand U.S., Israeli Partnership,” Heritage Foundation Commentary, July 7, 2010, (accessed September 16, 2014). []
  21. Phillips, “Obama’s Saudi Summit: Focus on Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Terrorism.” []
  22. Created in 1981, the GCC was mainly founded to promote economic and cultural matters between the Gulf States. Security, at the time, was also a reason but a minor one. Along with its role as an intergovernmental political organization, there are aspirations to someday create an economic union based on a common currency. The GCC also functions as a regional defense planning council. []
  23. US Embassy Cables: Bahrain’s Relations with Iran,” The Guardian, February 12, 2011, (accessed August 21, 2014). []
  24. James Phillips, “Obama’s Saudi Summit: Focus on Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Terrorism.” []
  25. Graeme Baker, “Saudis Lead Middle East Military spending,Al Jazeera, April 15, 2014, (accessed August 21, 2014). []
  26. Sam Perlo-Freeman and Carina Solmirano, “Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2013,” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Fact Sheet, April 2014, (accessed September 16, 2014). []
  27. Nazila Fathi, “Wipe Israel ‘Off the Map’ Iranian Says,” The New York Times, October 27, 2005, (accessed August 21, 2014). []
  28. Ibid. 87 []
  29. The International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance (London, UK: Routledge, 2014), p. 324. []
  30. Zach Pontz, “New Military Index Ranking World’s Top Armies Places Israel Just Three Ahead of Iran,” The Algemeiner, June 14, 2013, 
(accessed July 31, 2014). []
  31. Fareed Zakaria, “Israel Dominates the Middle East,” The Washington Post, November 21, 2012, (accessed July 31, 2014). []
  32. Voice of America News, “Israel Calls Up 16,000 More Reservists,” GlobalSecurity.org, July 31, 2014, (accessed July 31, 2014). []
  33. Anthony H. Cordesman and Aram Nerguizian, “The Arab-Israeli Military Balance: Conventional Realities and Asymmetric Challenges,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, June 29, 2010, p. 4, (accessed July 31, 2014). []
  34. Ibid. 93 []
  35. Ibid. 93 []
  36. Cordesman and Nerguizian, “The Arab-Israeli Military Balance,” p. 27. []
  37. GlobalSecurity.org, “Iron Dome,” July 23, 2014, (accessed July 31, 2014). []
  38. William Wunderle and Andre Briere, “Augmenting Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge,” Middle-East Quarterly (Winter 2008), (accessed July 31, 2014). []
  39. Gulf Daily News, “GCC forces Are ‘Protecting Key Installations,’” January 5, 2014, (accessed September 16, 2014). []
  40. The International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance, p. 341. []
  41. Al Jazeera, “Saudi Jets Bomb Yemeni Houthis,” November 5, 2009,(accessed October 25, 2014). []
  42. Andrew Chuter, “Deal to Integrate Storm Shadow Missile with Typhoon Ready for Signing,” Defense News, July 16, 2014, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  43. Defense Update, “Storm Shadow / SCALP EG Cruise Missile,” January 27, 2005, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  44. Defense Industry Daily, “Top Falcons: The UAE’s F-16 Block 60/61 Fighters,” January 26, 2014, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  45. Combined Maritime Forces, “CTF-152: Gulf Maritime Security.” []
  46. Editorial, “More Complaints from the Saudis,” Chicago Tribune, December 17, 2013, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  47. GlobalSecurity.org, “Egypt: Introduction,” April 4, 2012, (accessed July 31, 2014). []
  48. Ibid. 107 []
  49. Ibid. 107 []
  50. Ibid. 107 []
  51. Eric Trager, “Resuming Military Aid to Egypt: A Strategic Imperative,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, April 30, 2014, (accessed July 31, 2014). []
  52. International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance, p. 315 []
  53. Trager, “Resuming Military Aid to Egypt.” []
  54. David Schenker and Eric Trager, “Egypt’s Arms Deal with Russia: Potential Strategic Costs,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, March 4, 2014, 
(accessed July 31, 2014). []
  55. Herbert London, “Egypt Needs US Aid to Fight Extremism,” Newsmax, July 21, 2014, (accessed July 31, 2014). []
  56. Schenker and Trager, “Egypt’s Arms Deal with Russia.” []
  57. International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance, p. 327. []
  58. Ibid. 117 []
  59. During 1967 and 1990, South Yemen, officially known as the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, was a socialist state in the southeastern provinces of the present-day Republic of Yemen. []
  60. United States Central Command, “U.S. Central Command History,” 
(accessed July 28, 2014). []
  61. Ibid. 120 []
  62. Lieutenant Colonel Joseph P. Englehardt, “DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM: A Chronology and Troop List for the 1990–1991 Persian Gulf Crisis,” SSI Special Report, March 25, 1991, p. 5, (accessed July 28, 2014). []
  63. BBC, “Iraq War in Figures,” December 14, 2011, (accessed July 28, 2014). []
  64. Reuters, “Timeline: Invasion, Surge, Withdrawal; U.S. Forces in Iraq,” December 18, 2011, (accessed July 28, 2011). []
  65. David Martosko, “US Has No Plans to Send Any of Its 35,000 Middle East-Based Troops into Iraq After Al-Qaeda Overruns Two Cities and Forces 500,000 to Flee for Their Lives,” Daily Mail, June 11, 2014, 
(accessed August 20, 2014). []
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  67. Kenneth Katzman, “The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy,” Federation of American Scientists, May 15, 2014, pp. 12–13, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  68. Kenneth Katzman, “Oman: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy,” Federation of American Scientists, December 27, 2013, pp. 9–10, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  69. Kenneth Katzman, “Bahrain: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy,” Federation of American Scientists, June 11, 2014, pp. 22–23, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  70. United States Air Forces Central Command, “Wing Leadership Visits Eskan Village,” July 5, 2013, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  71. Richard Sisk, “US Troops in Jordan Will Train Iraqi Soldiers,” Military.com, January 22, 2014, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  72. Kristina Wong, “Obama Orders 475 Additional Troops to Iraq,” The Hill, September 10, 2014, (accessed October 31, 2014). []
  73. BBC, “CIA Operating Drone Base in Saudi Arabia, US Media Reveal,” February 6, 2013, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  74. Israel and Iran: Closer to Takeoff,The Economist, February 11, 2012, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  75. United States Central Command, “U.S. Central Command History.” []
  76. Royal Navy, “UK Minister Breaks Ground on Royal Navy HQ in Bahrain,” April 28, 2014, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  77. UK Ministry of Defence, “New RAF Unit Strengthens Relationship with United Arab Emirates,” March 21, 2014. []
  78. Frank Gardner, “‘East of Suez’: Are UK forces returning?” BBC, April 29, 2013, 
(accessed August 20, 2014). []
  79. Harriet Alexander, “Where Are the World’s Major Military Bases?The Telegraph, July 11, 2013, (accessed November 15, 2014). []
  80. International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance, p. 99. []
  81. Donna Miles, “Centcom Undertakes Massive Logistical Drawdown in Afghanistan,” U.S. Department of Defense, June 21, 2013, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  82. Ibid. 141)

    While 60 percent of roads in the Middle East region are paved, wide variation exists between countries. For example, Israel, Jordan, and United Arab Emirates have 100 percent of their roads paved. Other nations, such as Oman (46 percent), Saudi Arabia (21.5 percent), and Yemen (8.7 percent), have poor paved road coverage. ((Indexmundi.com, “Roads, Paved (% of Total Roads) — Middle East,” (accessed August 20, 2014). []

  83. The World Bank, “Rail Lines (Total Route-km),” 
(accessed August 20, 2014). []
  84. Anne Barnard, “Once Bustling, Syria’s Fractured Railroad Is a Testament to Shattered Ambitions,” The New York Times, May 25, 2014, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  85. Leone Lakhani, “Is the Middle East the New Hub of Global Aviation?” CNN, May 29, 2014, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  86. Justin Bachman, “Atlanta’s Still the World’s Busiest Airport—but Maybe Not for Long,” Bloomberg Businessweek, April 2, 2014, 
(accessed August 20, 2014). []
  87. Hendrick Simoes, “Bahrain Expansion Latest Signal of Continued US Presence,” Stars and Stripes, December 13, 2013, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  88. Kenneth Katzman, “Bahrain: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy.” []
  89. Ibid. 149 []
  90. Combined Maritime Forces, “CMF Commanders Speak on Maritime Security at Doha Maritime Defence Exhibition,” April 1, 2014, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  91. Suez Canal Authority, “2013 – Suez Canal Authority,” 2013, p. 1, 
(accessed August 20, 2014). []
  92. Ibid. 152 []
  93. US Carrier Crosses Suez Canal into Red Sea,” The Times of Israel, November 8, 2013, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  94. U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, “The Strait of Hormuz Is the World’s Most Important Oil Transit Chokepoint,” January 12, 2012, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  95. David Cutler, “Factbox – Some Facts on the Bab Al-Mandab Shipping Lane,” Reuters, June 4, 2011, (accessed August 20, 2014). []
  96. International Chamber of Commerce, Commercial Crime Services, “IMB Piracy Report Highlights Violence in West Africa,” July 15, 2013, (accessed August 20, 2014). []

Assessing America's Ability to Provide for the Common Defense