The question that must be asked before discussing the two military deals sealed during Saudi King Salman’s visit to Moscow last week is: Why does Riyadh seem to be more interested in importing advanced weapons in greater quantities?
Saudi Arabia is actually facing the worst potential foreign threats due to two factors: the Iranian threat has increased and America’s commitment to defend it has declined.
Iran’s threats increased on all Saudi borders. Tehran extended its influence on Iraq and Syria in the north. It is also threatening it on the south and on the borders with Yemen. Iran would have tightened control on the region if the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule lasted under the presidency of Mohammed Mursi in Egypt.
The other reason is the regression of American protection. During his presidential term, Barack Obama bluntly said the concept that “Saudi Arabia’s security is part of the US’ security” within the context of serving America’s higher interest is no longer valid. The Saudi command thus had one path to pursue; enhance its defensive capabilities.
For western governments, there is always a close relationship between arms’ sales and foreign policies. This relation links deals to conditions and it may restrain them for political considerations. Obama’s administration has previously suspended its supplies of ammunition to Saudi Arabia and deprived it of intelligence cooperation due to disputes over the war in Yemen.
It is not strange that some American state institutions and some Congressmen opposed deals with Saudi Arabia or other countries. Many deals were barely sealed due to opposition figures lobbying against them. There are groups that are hostile to Saudi Arabia and others that accuse it of carrying out military operations against civilians in Yemen.
This is in addition to lobby groups that work for powers that oppose Saudi Arabia. Despite all this, the president is the one who makes decisions according to American interests.
The military deal with Russia is not an alternative to US weapons and it does not aim to be distanced from the US, as some people described
Visit to Moscow
King Salman’s visit to Moscow was the first official visit by a Saudi monarch to Russia. It is very important in terms of Saudi Arabia’s efforts in responding to the oil market and politically neutralizing Moscow away from Iran.
The visit also sought to expand military options. The military deal with Russia is not an alternative to American weapons and it does not aim to be distanced from the US, as some people have described it to be.
As I said in the beginning, it is the growing threat that is forcing Riyadh to be stronger than it earlier was. Buying Russian and Chinese weapons will liberate it from US pressure. In case the US suspends its supply of ammunition or prevents it from using its weapons in any upcoming war, Riyadh will have other options.
The arsenal that Saudi Arabia will receive will includes two missile defense systems that will be directed against Iranian attacks or any other attack and they are the American THAAD and the Russian S-400. After possessing several resources, Saudi Arabia will not go through what it went through two years ago in Yemen.
Gulf countries, whose neighbors are lurking due to their rich resources, must strengthen their defense policies, not just by buying more weapons but also by improving the performance of their military institutions and developing their scientific and industrial work. Truth be told, this is what we have seen Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman do. He is reformulating the concept of Saudi military power away from the media.
It is the Gulf countries’ fate to live in a region swamped with wars and chaos. Saudi Arabia is thus forced to think that military superiority is more than sealing arms deals as it is also a doctrine that relies on science, discipline and developing industries.
It is a comprehensive system. This is what Israel, which is the largest importer of weapons, also thinks. The peak of excellence is for armament not to become a burden on the state and a reason behind its bankruptcy or weakness as it must be a path for development, growth and peace.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.