Attacks by the Houthis and other Iran-backed proxies in the Middle East have bolstered strategic alliances across the region.
US Central Command (CENTCOM) commander Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie went on a whirlwind trip last week, visiting key military allies in the region, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt.
In the UAE, McKenzie sought to build on US efforts to fortify the UAE's defences, following attacks staged by the Iran-backed Houthis and another shadowy group.
"We brought a destroyer in, a guided-missile destroyer, the USS Cole, which has ballistic missile defence capabilities. It will patrol the waters of the UAE, working closely with UAE air defenders to protect their nation," he told WAM February 7.
"And then additionally, over the next week or so, we're going to bring in a squadron of F-22 fighter jets, the best air superiority fighters in the world."
"They will also work with their UAE partners to help defend the nation. So, we think this is just one friend helping another in a time of crisis."
The stealthy F-22 Raptors effectively arrived at Al-Dhafra air base in the UAE on Saturday (February 12), the US Air Force said in a statement.
"The unparalleled capabilities of the F-22 in a variety of missions, as well as its ability to interoperate with joint, coalition, allied and partner forces make it ideally suited to serve in the Middle East region during this critical time," said AFCENT commander Lt. Gen. Greg Guillot.
"The Raptors' presence will bolster already strong partner nation defences and puts destabilising forces on notice that the United States and our partners are committed to enabling peace and stability in the region."
The airmen and F-22s were deployed from the 1st Fighter Wing, located at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
"Through the vital support of the 192nd Wing and the 633rd Air Base Wing, we were able to get the 27th Fighter Squadron out the door on short-notice. Our Raptors are modernised highly-capable fighters, operated by the finest airmen, and they bring decisive airpower wherever they go," said Col. William Creeden, 1st Fighter Wing commander.
In Bahrain on Tuesday, McKenzie also reiterated the United States' commitment to the security of the kingdom and region during meetings with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
The military commander on Wednesday discussed with Egyptian Defence Minister Mohammed Zaki enhancing military co-operation between the United States and Egypt, and conducting joint exercises.
"I believe that Egypt is very interested in moving to face the new threats," McKenzie said, referring to threats including cyber-warfare.
Egypt is in many ways the "cultural, historical and geographic centre of the Arab world... and so Egypt is very important to us", he said.
Meanwhile, Israel signed a defence agreement with Bahrain on February 3, its first such deal with a Gulf country since establishing diplomatic ties with Manama and Abu Dhabi more than a year ago.
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, making his first visit to Bahrain, said the memorandum of understanding, that covers intelligence, procurement and joint training, takes the countries' relationship to "new heights".
The agreements are aimed at bringing more stability to the region, and minimising Iran's malice and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)'s influence in the region.
And on January 31, US President Joe Biden announced he was designating Qatar a "major non-NATO ally", opening the door to closer military and commercial ties between the United States and the Gulf state.
The announcement came as he hosted Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the White House, underscoring the Gulf state's strategic importance.
"Our partnership in Qatar has been central to many of our most vital interests," Biden said, ahead of an Oval Office meeting with a packed agenda.
"We want to talk about security in the Gulf and the broader Middle East, ensuring the stability of global energy supplies, continuing our work together to support the people of Afghanistan, and strengthening commercial co-operation," he said.
Joint military exercises
The region has also seen a flurry of joint military exercises in the face of a persistent Iranian threat.
The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) January 30 concluded a joint tactical exercise in eastern Saudi Arabia meant to bolster the security co-operation among member states.
Security forces from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain took part in the two-week-long Arab Gulf Security 3 exercise in Dammam in the Eastern region.
The drills were meant to strengthen security co-operation among GCC countries and boost the co-ordination and readiness of security forces to address all the threats facing the Gulf region, the Saudi Interior Ministry said in a statement at the start of the exercise.
GCC countries stand united in defending their security, Saudi Minister of Interior Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef said at a ceremony marking the end of the drills.
A US-led maritime exercise including 60 nations and organisations also has kicked off earlier this month in and around Gulf waters with Israel joining for the first time alongside nations that do not recognise it.
The US navy Tuesday (February 8) said that the 18-day biennial International Maritime Exercise (IMX22) includes 50 vessels and 9,000 personnel from more than 60 entities.
With more than 80 drones, it is also the world's largest unmanned drill, it said from Bahrain, where the US 5th Fleet is headquartered.
The drill includes a number of countries -- among them Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Oman and Yemen -- that do not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel.
In November, the UAE and Bahrain launched joint naval exercises with Israel for the first time.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United States all share concerns about Iran, which has been accused of orchestrating attacks and smuggling operations in the region.
Twelve people were injured by falling debris after the Saudi military blew up a drone targeting Abha International Airport close to the Yemen border in an attack on Thursday claimed by the Houthis.
The militia targeted the UAE three times last month with drones and missiles, killing three foreign workers in the first attack on January 17.
Earlier in the month, the Houthis seized a UAE-flagged ship in the Red Sea, saying it was carrying weapons -- a claim denied by the Emirates.
On January 23, the US navy said it had stopped a ship carrying 40 tonnes of a fertiliser that can be used to make explosives as it travelled from Iran along a route previously used to smuggle weapons to the Houthis.
In December, it had seized 1,400 AK-47 rifles and ammunition from a fishing boat it claimed was smuggling weapons from Iran to Yemen.
The Houthis have been engaged in a ferocious assault on Marib, the Yemeni government's last northern stronghold.
In November, they took control of a large area south of al-Hodeidah port.
The United Nations and United States have been stressing the urgency of peace talks in order to end the Yemen conflict, the death toll from which reached an estimated 377,000 at the end of 2021.
"The problem is essentially political, and the Houthis have a way to end that war in Yemen if they will only seize it. I believe all parties except the Houthis actually want to find a political end to that war," McKenzie told Ahram Online during his visit to Egypt on Wednesday.
"A political solution is what is going to be necessary," he added.