Daily Memo: The U.S. to Deploy Troops to Saudi Arabia

What’s geopolitically important today.

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U.S. soldiers in Saudi Arabia. On Friday, the Trump administration announced that it would deploy U.S. military forces to the Middle East in response to the attack on Saudi oil facilities that cut Saudi oil exports by half late last week. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford noted that the deployment will involve enhanced missile defense support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and less than a thousand new U.S. troops. This new military dimension will complement rather than replace the economic dimension of Washington’s containment strategy for Iran. Indeed, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a new batch of sanctions targeting the Central Bank of Iran, the National Development Fund of Iran and an Iranian company accused of masking financial transfers for Iranian military purchases. The new sanctions won’t have a huge impact; most transactions with the central bank, for example, were already prohibited by other sanctions. Assuming Iran was behind the attack, the government in Tehran probably figured that the risks of a full retaliation were too great for the U.S. to accept. The problem is that it can’t be sure how big a threat the U.S. considers its expansion.

Houthis back down? After initially (and dubiously) taking credit for the attack on Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have since dialed back the frequency and intensity of their attacks on the kingdom, even calling for a cease-fire on Friday despite pledging earlier to continue targeting Saudi energy infrastructure. The news comes a day after Saudi Arabia and the UAE put aside their differences in Yemen long enough to launch a joint offensive north of the strategically invaluable port city of Hodeidah, so it’s possible that the Houthis concluded that they’d bitten off more than they could chew. It also suggests that the attacks – whether Tehran orchestrated them or not – have done more harm than good to Iran’s strategic interests, and that a détente is in order.

Israel election update. The final results from Israel’s dramatic parliamentary elections on Tuesday are in, but it’s still unclear who will be running the country. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will begin consultations with party leaders on Sunday on forming a “stable government.” All the major players are still reportedly pushing for a national unity government involving Israel’s two largest parties, incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and former military chief Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, which won 33 of the Knesset’s 120 seats compared to Likud’s 31. (Gantz’ center-left bloc controls 57 seats in total, while Netanyahu’s coalition of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties current controls 55.) Gantz, naturally, is insisting that he be prime minister and that Netanyahu have no role in the next government. Avigdor Liberman, the head of the center-right Yisrael Beiteinu party (winner of eight seats), a one-time Netanyahu ally and current kingmaker, denied speculation that he had reached an agreement with Gantz and hinted at the possibility of a deal with ultra-Orthodox party leader that could pave the way for a right wing coalition. What is most significant about these election results it that they confirm what the previous election results already showed: Israeli society is divided between the religious and secular on the one hand and between Arabs and Jews on the other.

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