Saudi Arabia remains key actor in the USA’s coalition against Islamic State

Since 1933 and the establishment of full diplomatic relations, both Saudi Arabia and the United States of America have shared bilateral ties. Over the years, their relationship has seen some levels of turmoil, but mutual interests and a desire to defeat the Islamic State has kept them both staunch allies.

Although relations between the two nations have not always been trouble-free, their alliance has managed to survive opposing views over the state of Israel, the embargo of the U.S. by Saudi Arabia during the 1973 oil crisis, the 11 September 2001 attacks, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S., which Saudi Arabia opposed. And despite the fact that Saudi Arabia is ruled by an ultraconservative absolute monarchy, is governed by Sharia law, and contrasts the United State’s secular democratic republic, both countries have many overlapping economic and national security interests.

In recent years, the relationship shared by Saudi Arabia and the United States, has been described as ‘special’, with U.S. presidents having strong and close relations with senior members of the Saudi Royal Family. On 22 September, 2014, the United Sates and Saudi Arabia joined forces in a coalition, along with Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to begin carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State inside Syria – with President Barack Obama repeatedly stating that there would be no U.S. ‘boots on the ground’ in Syria.

As of late, voices across the U.S. political spectrum have been urging Arab nations to do more in the fight against the Islamic States. According to an adviser of the Saudi Defence Minister, on February 4th 2016, Saudi Arabia – who the U.S. has been heavily relying on to fund Syrian Rebels against the Islamic State – responded by expressing its readiness to send ground troops to Syria if the U.S.-led coalition decided that such an operation was necessary.

Saudi Arabia’s Brigadier General, Ahmed Asseri, said the country has been an active member of the U.S.-led coalition that has been fighting against the Islamic State in Syria, and since 2014, has carried out more than 190 aerial missions. Asseri further stated that “if there was a consensus from the leadership of the coalition”, the Kingdom would be “willing to participate in these efforts”, because it believes that “aerial operations are not the ideal solution”, and that “there must be a twin mix of aerial and ground operations”.

In spite of the support coming from Saudi Arabia, the USA have recently had fears over the country’s latest tensions with Iran following Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it was severing diplomatic ties with Tehran after Iranian mobs stormed its Saudi Embassy. Obama administration officials have expressed deep concern that the growing rupture between Saudi Arabia and Iran could potentially have repercussions extending to the fight against the Islamic State, the diplomatic efforts to end Syria’s civil war, and wider efforts to bring stability to the Middle East. U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, has reached out to both Iranian and Saudi Arabian leaders, urging them to talk to each other in order to resolve their differences.