The United States is reportedly in the process of redeploying four air-defense missile systems from the Middle East, refocusing its attention from Iran to global threats such as China and Russia.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has ordered the military to pull out four Patriot anti-aircraft missile systems, which are also capable of intercepting incoming missiles, from allies in the region, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, citing several senior military officials.
The report came as US President Donald Trump and other officials were ramping up their rhetoric against Iran at the UN General Assembly and the president was set to chair a Security Council meeting focusing on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities.
Israeli officials have for years pointed to Iran’s nuclear and missile programs as an existential threat, and Tehran’s leaders have repeatedly threatened to destroy the Jewish state.
Two US Patriot systems are to be removed from Kuwait, one from Jordan and one from Bahrain — countries that have been central in countering the missile threat posed by Tehran and its allies in the Middle East. The systems will not be replaced, the report said.
The defense systems have been taken offline and will be returned to the US for refurbishing and upgrades, the report said, without detailing where they will then be sent next month.
There are still Patriot batteries remaining in the region — in Saudi Arabia, for instance, which is frequently targeted by Yemeni militias loyal to Iran — but the report said the move was a “major drawdown” of the defense the US is providing its allies.
There are also Patriot missile systems in Israel, though those are owned and operated by the Israel Defense Forces.
The US Central Command refused to comment to the Wall Street Journal on the move.
On Tuesday, Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton warned Tehran of “hell to pay” if it threatens the US or its allies.
“If you cross us, our allies, or our partners; if you harm our citizens, if you continue to lie, cheat and deceive; yes, there will indeed be hell to pay,” he said, speaking at a gathering hosted by the group United Against a Nuclear Iran, held on the margins of the General Assembly.
“Let my message today be clear: we are watching, and we will come after you.”
Trump himself assailed Iran’s leaders, accusing them of sowing “chaos, death and destruction” and calling on world governments to isolate Tehran, during an address to the UN General Assembly.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shot back in his speech, denouncing leaders who have “xenophobic tendencies resembling a Nazi disposition” and slamming the planned council meeting as a “preposterous and abnormal act.”
Trump also slammed China amid a growing trade war with Beijing, and said that the commercial imbalance with the Asian power “cannot be tolerated.”
AFP contributed to this report.