President Donald Trump says US military forces will stay in the Middle East to ensure the security of its close ally, Israel, days after he suggested that the occupying entity will have to “leave” the region without Riyadh’s support.
“We have reached a point where we don’t have to stay in the Middle East. One reason to stay is Israel,” Trump said in an exclusive interview with The Washington Post published on Wednesday.
Trump said that oil production was no longer a reason to stay in the region as lower oil prices lead to reduced reliance on Saudi Arabia.
“Oil is becoming less and less of a reason because we’re producing more oil now than we’ve ever produced. So, you know, all of a sudden it gets to a point where you don’t have to stay there,” he explained.
Last week, Trump said the US would “remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.”
He stressed that the stability of Saudi Arabia benefits Tel Aviv, saying “Israel would be in big trouble without Saudi Arabia.”
“So what does that mean, Israel is going to leave? You want Israel to leave? We have a very strong ally in Saudi Arabia,” Trump said after a Thanksgiving Day telephone call with military personnel from his Mar-a-Lago resort home in Florida on Thursday.
The US president also said the Saudis were “tremendously helpful” in the region as they also helped keep oil prices down.
Trump’s comments came after he was harshly criticized for deciding not to punish the kingdom for the assassination of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Riyadh’s consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul in early October.
The US president has also been accused of ignoring human rights and giving Saudi Arabia a pass for economic reasons, including its influence on the world oil market.
Trump says Washington intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure interests of the US, Israel and regional partners.
Despite international calls for the US to put pressure on Riyadh, Trump said last week that Washington intends “to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.”
He also suggested that Israel would be forced to leave the region without Saudi Arabia.
“If you look at Israel, Israel would be in big trouble without Saudi Arabia,” Trump said. “So what does that mean, Israel is going to leave? You want Israel to leave? We have a very strong ally in Saudi Arabia,” Trump said.
Israel has no diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia, but the two sides are widely known to have secret contacts and have recently stepped up their push towards normalization.
Critics say Saudi Arabia’s flirtation with Israel would undermine global efforts to isolate Tel Aviv and harm the Palestinian cause.