Saturday, January 16, 2021

Pakistan, China Assisting Saudi Arabia with Missile Program; Is Riyadh Moving Away from Washington?

Saudi Arabia is developing a missile program with the help of China and Pakistan which many critics see a potential divergence from the US. Saudi Arabia is a close ally of Pakistan and China, but the US has persistently been the guarantor of security for Riyadh especially against regional foe Iran.

Last week, The Washington Post reported that Saudi Arabia has started building its first known ballistic missile production factory.

Satellite images taken last November by US company Planet Labs Inc and analyzed by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey revealed that the factory is situated at an existing missile base near the central Saudi town of al-Watah.

US defence experts told CNBC that the development indicates a growing desire by Riyadh, Washington’s longtime ally, to take offensive measures without the approval of its main weapons sponsor.

“There’s an arms race underway,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and Arab affairs expert at the American Enterprise Institute. “Whiplash policy changes in Washington have had their impact on Riyadh: Saudi authorities are no longer going to be constrained by White House whispers. The Saudis are demonstrating that they can take matters into their own hands.”

Missile expert Jeffrey Lewis also stressed that heavy investment in missiles often correlates with an interest in nuclear weapons, adding, “I would be a little worried that we’re underestimating the Saudis’ ambitions here.”

Moreover, Bruce Riedel, a CIA veteran and expert on Persian Gulf affairs, said that the timing of the Saudi missile factory construction “underscores a willingness to ignore Washington’s interests and policies” from the beginning of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s rise to power.

Riyadh started its missile program, which is overseen by the kingdom’s secretive Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF), with the purchase of Chinese D3-F Silkworm ballistic missiles back in 1988.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a former Pentagon official said the SRF likely “operates with Chinese input,” noting that “given that Pakistan has close ties with both China and with the Kingdom and has numerous advisers working with Saudi security agencies, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some Pakistani assistance as well.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, however, rejected Beijing’s assistance to Riyadh to build a missile base.

Meanwhile, analysts believe that revelations about Saudi Arabia’s missile program could further complicate the kingdom’s relations with the US, given the already increased anger over Riyadh’s deadly war on Yemen and the assassination of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.

In addition to the missiles activities, the Saudis are also pursuing a nuclear energy program. Bin Salman laid the foundation stone for the kingdom’s first nuclear research reactor during his visit to King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in Riyadh last November.

More News at EurAsian Times

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