AP: In this 17 November 2007 file photo, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, second from right, as Crown Prince Sultan, right, looks on at Riyadh airport, shortly after Ahmadinejad arrived to attend the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. US military experts have exaggerated Iran's military state in order to sell arms to Gulf states.
General Sameh Seif El-Yazel, an expert in regional security issues and a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a UK-based think tank focused on international security, told Ahram Online that Saudi Arabia is in dire need of overhauling its weaponry. Until the most recent deal, Saudi Arabia has, since 2000, not paid more than $36.7 billionfor purchases from the UK, US, China and Germany. The recent sixth war in Yemen revealed the kingdom's pressing need to modernise its Air Force.
Seif El-Yazel explained that the deal which includes the purchase of 84 F-15 jets, 72 Black Hawks, 70 Apaches, 36 Little Birds and upgrades to 70 F-15s is needed to confront the rebels in Yemeni pockets on the border between the two countries.
General Jamal Mazloum, a military expert at Naif Arab University for Security Sciences (NAUSS), told Ahram Online that the arms deal between Saudi Arabia and the US was partly prompted by Gulf states being misled into thinking that Iran posed an imminent threat and that a military confrontation was inevitable. It is the same formula which was once used to exaggerate the threat of Saddam Hussein’s weapons arsenal.
Mazloum believes Saudi Arabia will benefit from the deal seeing as it is a routine upgrade for the Armed Forces and a special boost for its Air Force capabilities. However, Washington will gain the most given the likelihood of future agreements under the same pretext with other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states who all fear Iran's developing nuclear programme.
Riyad also signed an arms deal with Madrid to buy the most advanced tanks in the world. According to reports, the deal includes between 200 and 270 Leopard 2E tanks. Retired Brigadier General Safwat El-Zayyat asserts that Germany is the main manufacturer of these tanks, which implies that the German government has approved the transaction. The Spanish group General Dynamics-Santa Barbara made some modifications to the tanks, as requested by Saudi Arabia to better suit its environment.
According to international reports, Saudi Arabia has some 315 M1A2 Abrams tanks and 450 US-made M60 tanks which are a relatively older model. It also has 290 AMX tanks, which brings the official total before the recent deal to 1,055 tanks. Experts claim that at an estimated $4-5 billion, the deal is the largest for Spain.
El-Zayyat stated that Saudi Arabia is concerned about land threats, whether at its southern border with Yemen or from Iraq – which is likely to acquire advanced weapons systems beyond those in the Arab world.
Abdelwalie Al-Shamri, Yemen’s ambassador to the Arab League, disagrees with the argument that Saudi Arabia is arming itself in anticipation of possible confrontations with Yemeni rebels or threats from Yemen. “There are other strategic reasons why Saudi Arabia is arming itself at this advanced level,” Al-Shamri told Ahram Online.
“Saudi Arabia is facing security threats because of its oil fields and holy sites. More importantly, it wants to protect its eastern border, counter threats from Iran and even the balance with Iran’s defence capabilities. There are also threats from Al-Qaeda.” He insisted that “You don’t need all these weapons to fight the rebels in Yemen.”
On the Iraqi front, General Abbas Sami, a military expert and former senior officer in the Iraqi army, agrees that Iraq could represent a threat to Saudi Arabia, especially since Iran continues to have significant influence there. The weapons used by the Iraqi army are dwarfed by the capabilities of the equipment used by Iran-backed militias. Sami affirmed that Saudi intelligence is well aware of these details.