US Pulls Patriot Missiles From Middle East As Focus Shifts To China, Russia Threat

The Pentagon is removing Patriot missile systems from several Middle Eastern countries next month, an a move that the Wall Street Journal says coincides with a "realignment of forces and capabilities as the military steps up its focus on threats from China and Russia," citing multiple senior military officials. 

The relocation of the systems out of the Middle East, which hasn’t been previously disclosed, is one of the most tangible signs of the Pentagon’s new focus on threats from Russia and China and away from the long-running conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Two Patriot missile systems will be redeployed from Kuwait, and one each from Jordan and Bahrain, officials said. Patriots are mobile missile systems capable of shooting down missiles and planes.

The four systems have been taken offline and will be redeployed by next month, officials said. There are no plans for any of them to be replaced, and they are being returned to the U.S. for refurbishing and upgrades, an official said. -WSJ

While some Patriot systems will remain in the region, removal of the four batteries "amounts to a major drawdown of the capability Patriots provide in the region," notes the Journal, which adds that their removal also comes amid the White House intensifying its rhetoric against Iran and "amid an increasingly cvomplex battlefield in Syria." 

According to a 48-page report issued Tuesday by the State Department, Iran's missile programs pose a significant threat, and the Islamic Republic maintains "a stockpile of hundreds of missiles that threaten its neighbors in the region." 

Patriot missile systems deployed around the world utilize what is referred to as "point defense" - providing defensive capabilities over a smaller radius to shoot down aircraft, while the newest version of the system, the PAC-3, can shoot down missiles as well. Their effective range is only in the dozens of miles, so they are typically located near bases or other sensitive installations they are intended to protect. 

Patriot systems owned by Saudi Arabia are used there frequently, for example, regularly shooting down missiles fired from Yemen, where a civil war has ragedsince 2015.

American allies in the region have depended on such missile-defense systems for years. The systems play both a real and symbolic role in countering the threat posed by nearby Iran. Bahrain, in particular, has grown concerned about Iran-backed groups and other Shiite militias destabilizing the small island nation. -WSJ

Washington's move comes as Russia announced the deployment of their S-300 anti-aircraft system to the Syrian government, following the downing of a Russian Il-20 plane due to outdated Syrian air-defense systems.