As Saudi Arabia intended to offer Aramco shares at the Stock Exchange market in early November the recent military strikes on the oil facility knocked out half of its oil and gas supplies and made investment on the two fields look like high-risk.
The news of the successful attacks inflicted a severe blow to Saudi deterrence claims. Saudi Arabia and the US have extensive military cooperation, and Riyadh is one of the major buyers of US weapons, including anti-missile defense systems. This cooperation expanded after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 to the extent that thousands of US troops were deployed in Saudi Arabia. However, the announcement that the Yemeni army with 10 drones has been able to break through all Saudi defense systems and launch such an attack has left many questions unanswered about the effectiveness of the US military deployed in Saudi Arabia and challenged them seriously.
Of course, the Saudi Ministry of Defense announced that18 drones with 7 high-precision cruise missiles were used in the attacks.
Former US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said in an interview it was strange to see so many drones or cruise missiles passing through the advanced Saudi radar system. He said the US has a large military base in Bahrain and American ships constantly go up and down in the Persian Gulf. If these missiles or drones have crossed the Persian Gulf have they been observed by American forces, he wondered. If not, there must be an immediate and thorough investigation into the cause of this inefficiency, he added. It can be very vital technically and security wise, he noted.
In light of such concerns, the Saudi King has announced that “after investigations into the attack on Aramco are complete we will take appropriate security measures.” In such an atmosphere, the US president who had already said that Saudi Arabia will not last two weeks without US support has now a good opportunity to strike another big arms deal.
In recent decades, the United States and Saudi Arabia have made all kinds of excuses for buying and selling weapons. If they do not find an excuse in reality they turn to fabricated threats.
In the fall of last year, our Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, expressed concern over the sheer volume of weapons being delivered to the Middle East, saying that the United States had turned the Middle East into a “gunpowder store.” According to him, the amount of weapons entering the region is “unbelievable”.
According to a recent report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the increase in arms exports from the beginning to the end of the year compared to the five year period (2009/13) was primarily due to rising demand from the Middle East led by Saudi Arabia. Saudi arms imports in this period were 192% more than the five-year period and alone bought 12 percent of all arms sold during that period.
A clear indication of the high priority Saudi Arabia gives to military capability is the fact that Saudi military spending was 8.8 per cent of GDP in 2018.
In 2018 Saudi Arabia’s military spending amounted to an estimated $67.6 billion. It was the third-largest military spender globally and by far the largest military spender in the Persian Gulf region.
In 2015, the cost of Saudi military purchases had reached its highest level, namely 13% of the GDP. In 2018, Saudi Arabia spent about $67.6 billion accounting for 8.8% of the GDP to boost its military capability. By comparison, other countries that rank first to 15th in terms of military spending globally devoted less than 4% of their GDP to arms purchases in 2018. After release of the SIPRI report, the European media described Saudi Arabia as the largest arsenal of advanced weapons in the southern Persian Gulf.
At its peak in 2015, military spending was 13% of GDP. In contrast, all other countries among the 15 largest military spenders in the world allocated less than 4 per cent of GDP to the military in 2018. Saudi Arabia’s per capita military spending in 2018 was higher than any other country in the world.
Saudi Arabia was the third country in terms of military spending after the US and China, and statistics show that Saudi Arabia stands even higher than Russia, France and the United Kingdom.
On the other hand, arms sales are vital for the American economy that has a significant impact on GDP and overall revenues. According to congressional statistics released by the US Congress, Trump in his first year in office reported an income of $82.2 billion in major arms sales to the Congress. He has been among the presidents who have recorded the highest amount of arms sales in the recent decade, half of which were destined to Saudi Arabia.
“Drones have challenged billions of dollars in Saudi military purchases,” CNN said in a report, detailing the technical details of Aramco’s attacks, militarily evaluating it as a new chapter in weapons calculations.
It said: “Cruise missiles allegedly used in the attacks are a revamped version of Russian missiles of the 1980s, and drones are still not considered a serious destructive weapon, despite the advances. However, a combination of several cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles, which did not cost a million dollars, was able to cross over the multibillion-dollar equipment purchased by Saudi Arabia to hit the Aramco facility, disrupting 5% of the world’s oil production.”
In the past few years, despite criticisms against the US and Saudi Arabia, the arms race has continued in every possible way, and the Trump administration has in fact increased its arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The United Nations has criticized the targeted killing of civilians in what described the Saudi-led war in Yemen as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world”.
At the same time, after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a moderate Saudi critic, sensitivities in the US to arms deals with the country have increased, and the issue of relations with Saudi Arabia has widened the gap between the Trump administration and the Congress. Subsequently, a number of US lawmakers called for a ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
In June this year, a congressional meeting with US defense officials to discuss arms sales to Saudi Arabia turned into a hotbed of criticism of the president’s policies, and they rejected government arguments for the urgency of Iran’s threats and the need to bypass congressional sales to Saudi Arabia dismissed the government’s claims as “fabricated”. However, Trump vetoed congressional resolutions against arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
While Trump has repeatedly shown that his administration’s policies in the Middle East are fully aligned with those of Saudi Arabia, the intentions of this business-minded president’s behind the scene goals should not be ignored. When Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate (in Istanbul), Trump dismissed US senators’ concern over continued US military aid to Saudi Arabia, saying the United States would be “punishing” itself by halting military sales to Saudi Arabia.
Trump said his administration won a $110 billion military order from Saudi Arabia and that the deal, combined with Saudi commitments to invest heavily in the United States, was worth hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs.
During his presidential campaign, candidate Trump chose to describe the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a “milk cow” that will be led to slaughter when its milk runs out. After his election, Trump has not stopped calling for more “milk” from this cow, as if he intends to drain Saudi Arabia before his first term ends.
On US actions after the attacks on Aramco, Trump said: “I have not made a promise to the Saudis (to protect them). We have to sit with the Saudis and find a solution. It was an attack on Saudi Arabia. It was not an attack on us! But we will definitely help them. And if we decide to take action, they will have to be very involved, and that will include costs, and they will fully understand that.”
“We do not need the Middle East oil and gas,” he wrote on Twitter.” In fact, we have a few tankers there, but we will help our allies.”
Evidence suggests that US policy has revisited Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty and aggressive policies, and after more than six decades, the United States has sought to restrict its support for Saudi Arabia. Former US President Barack Obama had said, “The biggest threat they may face is not the Iranian military invasion but dissatisfaction within these countries themselves.”
However, the potential under Saudi Arabia’s current conditions to close new billion-dollar arms deals and swallow a high proportion of its oil-money earnings is not something Trump could ignore. He is fully aware of the insatiable hunger of the Saudi leaders and the insecurity stemming from the old dictatorship structure and the resulting domestic politics and the consequences of its tension generating foreign policy.
None of the air defense systems could repel an attack like the one that occurred in Saudi Arabia during the attack on oil facilities, said Joseph Dunford, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
He said this, commenting on the inability of the American Patriot air defense to repel the attack of cruise missiles and drones that hit targets in Saudi Arabia.
“As for the fight against the specific threat you know that no system can resist this, but a multi-level defense system will reduce the risk posed by a massive attack from drones or other attacks.
“We don’t have overhead imagery to share, we don’t have tracks to share, we don’t have an unblinking eye over the entire Middle East at all times.”
A senior Russian Ministry of Defense source said in ironic terms to US defense equipment that thanks to the United States, Saudi Arabia has deployed not only a rocket system, but also the most powerful air defense system, but because of the low performance of its rocket systems he himself could not repel the attack.
Recent attacks have shown how vulnerable Saudi Arabia is to insufficiently sophisticated military equipment despite the enormous military costs and how weak its coalition is against Yemeni Houthis, an armed group fighting in the poorest country in the Middle East, and has been stuck in a war of attrition. The developments in Saudi Arabia that has truly become a gunpowder store will make it clear in the near future what kind of weapons of mass destruction and other arms control will enter the Middle East to continue the Western strategy of horror game in the region.