The U.S. has designated the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain as “major security partners” of the United States, the White House announced on Jan. 15.
However, it is unclear what the designation means in practical terms for the two Arab Gulf States, which have close ties with the U.S. military. The White House decision comes in the final days of the Trump administration.
The Kingdom of Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and the tiny island state hosts approximately 5,000 U.S. troops. The UAE’s Jebel Ali port is reportedly the busiest port of call for U.S. warships outside of America. In addition, the UAE hosts some 3,500 American soldiers, many at the Al-Dhafra Air Base, where Washington keeps some of its F35 fighter jets fleet.
A White House statement explained the rationale behind the decision to designate the UAE and Bahrain as major security partners.
“It recognizes our exceptional security partnership—exemplified by their hosting thousands of United States Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines—and the commitment of each country to countering violent extremism across the region,” according to the statement. “Most notably, both countries have participated in numerous United States-led coalitions over the past 30 years.”
The upgrade of the U.S. partnership with the UAE and Bahrain is also linked to the Abraham Accords, the normalization agreement signed in September 2020 between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain.
“It also reflects their extraordinary courage, determination, and leadership in entering into the Abraham Accords,” the White House release stated.
The U.S. already used the term “major non-NATO ally” (MNNA) to describe non-NATO countries that enjoy close defense trade and security cooperation ties with Washington. There are currently 17 countries designated as MNNAs and it includes states such as Israel, Australia, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, Japan and New Zealand. As is evident from the list, it mainly includes Western-style democracies outside the NATO bloc, as well as moderate Arab states that have made peace with the State of Israel.
Washington’s upgrade of its ties with the UAE and Bahrain also comes after these states agreed to join Saudi Arabia and Egypt to resolve their former boycott of Qatar, another Gulf state. The U.S. Central Command’s forward operating base is located at the Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The U.S. Central Command constitutes one of the U.S. Department of Defense’s 11 unified combatant commands worldwide. Its geographic area of responsibility includes the Middle East, Central Asia and parts of South Asia.
President Donald Trump recently ordered the U.S. Central Command to include Israel for the first time as a result of the strategic shift in the Middle East. Due to Israel’s former isolation in the region, Jerusalem was previously defined as part of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM). Under President Trump, Washington forged close ties with both Israel and the Arab Gulf States in order to coordinate a more united front against the Iranian regime and its aggressive imperial designs throughout the Middle East and beyond.
Following last year’s normalization agreements with Israel, the U.S. also agreed to sell its advanced F35 fighter jets to the UAE.