French Defence Minister Florence Parly took aim Saturday 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.
In a keynote speech in Bahrain, where she attended the annual Manama Dialogue, organised by the International Institute for Security Studies, she said that Iran was blamed for the escalation of tensions in the region while it denied involvement, and the United States has avoided retaliation despite its Saudi ally being in the crosshairs.
“We’ve seen a deliberate gradual US disengagement,” Parly said at the annual Manama Dialogue on regional security, adding it had been “on the cards for a while” but had become clearer with recent events.
Major oil facilities bombed
“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?” she asked.
“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.
“There is a desire in the US historically to try to retreat from the international scene, but that desire is not is reflected in America’s posture”.
Strategically very patient
Jubeir defended Riyadh’s measured response to the September strikes, saying the kingdom was being “strategically very patient” in its investigation so there is “not a shadow of doubt” on where the drones and missiles came from.
“We have said all along we don’t want war, so to jump into war very quickly is not a rational position.”
The French defence minister also put herself at odds with the US on security in the Gulf, after Washington earlier this month launched a maritime coalition based in Bahrain to protect shipping in the strait.
France instead favours a European mission which Parly said should be able to start “very soon”.
“I would like to add that we are not subtracting anything, we are adding, as a number of countries would not have participated in the American initiative anyway,” she said.