Saudi Arabia at war

By Dr Judith Brown

Saudi Arabia at war. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is the largest country in the Arabian Peninsula. To its west is the Red Sea, to the east is the Gulf of Arabia and a short border with Kuwait and Qatar, to the south-east is the United Arab Emirates and Oman, and Yemen is to the south-west of KSA. To the north, it has land boundaries with Jordan and Iraq. map saudi arabia Source of wealth. KSA has large reserves of oil, believed to be about 40% of the world’s reserves, and is currently the world’s largest producer of crude oil. Whilst oil dropped significantly in price in 2014, Saudi Arabia can use its windfall of reserves saved from when the oil price as higher to finance its current spending (

Weapons procurement. KSA has been purchasing weapons for many decades, many from US and Europe, but the rate of increase in arms purchases has increased significantly in recent years. In 2014 it was the world’s top weapons purchaser.

Table of spending on weapons, 2013/214

Top Defence Importers Top Defence Importers
2013 2014
1. India 1. Saudi Arabia
2. Saudi Arabia 2. India
3. UAE 3. China
4. Taiwan 4. UAE
5. China 5. Taiwan
6. Indonesia 6. Australia
7. South Korea 7. South Korea
8. Egypt 8. Indonesia
9. Australia 9. Turkey
10. Singapore 10. Pakistan


Total defence spending. KSA was 4th country in the table of total defence spending in 2014, after USA, China and Russia, spending 10.4% of its GDP on defence, a rise of 17% since 2013. (Perlo-Freeman, Fleurant, Wezeman P., Wezeman S. 2015. Trends in military expenditure2015; Sipri fact sheet; SIPRI, Sweden.)

Sources of procurement. Most of Saudi Arabia’s military aircraft are supplied by USA and UK (

Recent UK deals include: • September 2007, detailed contract signed for 72 Eurofighter Typhoons. o 24 were delivered in 2009, made in Lancashire. o Others supplied in kit form and assembled in Saudi Arabia. o Cost £4.4 billion. o Called Salam ‘peace’ project. • May 2012 BAE contract o Contract to train Saudi air force o 55 Pilatus aircraft made in Switzerland o 22 BAE Hawk jets. o Cost £1.6 billion (source: CAAT) SAUDI JET SUPPLIED BY BAE SYSTEMS This is surprising not only in terms of its own status as an intolerant dictatorship, but also in view of its funding of groups that are deemed to be ‘terrorists’ that has been heavily criticised in the West (Cockburn, P., 2014, Al Qaeda the second act: is Saudi Arabia regretting its support for terrorism; The Independent, 17.3.2014).

Nuclear ambitions. Many British newspapers have recently reported that Saudi Arabia could purchase battle ready nuclear weapons from Pakistan. The relationship between SaudiArabia and Pakistan is cordial and since 1974 KSA has funded part of the Pakistan integrated atomic weapons project. Western intelligence and diplomats believe that Pakistan would sell nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia. One German magazine produced photographs in 2006 that allegedly shows Gauri rockets in silos south of Riyadh; Pakistan denies that it has provided weapons to the Kingdom. Source: Wikipedia and UK newspapers.

Saudi Arabia’s use of military force outside the Kingdom. Between 1903-1920, the Saud tribe was involved in various wars in Arabia that enlarged its land under its control, and formed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Then, • In 1924-5 the Saudis fought a war with the Hashemite tribes and took part of the Hijaz territory that had previously been part of Yemen, including the holy sites of Mecca and Medina. • In 1990-1991 Saudi Arabia was involved with the coalition that formed the First Gulf War against Iraq. • In 2009-2010 Saudi invaded northern Yemen to attack the Bakil tribe (the Houthis), and was repelled. • In 2012 it entered Bahrain at the request of the rulers of Bahrain, who had already been involved in a brutal crackdown against protesters, and helped the ruling dictatorship to consolidate its power. • It participated with US led air attacks on ISIS/Daesh in Syria in 2014. • It assembled a coalition to attack Yemen in March 2015.

The stated purpose of the attack on Yemen. • Saudi Arabia’s reason for the attacks (Defensive Shield) was articulated by Adel al-Jubeir, its ambassador to the United States, who said, “Having Yemen fail cannot be an option for us or for our coalition partners.” The Saudis believed that Yemen was failing because Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former president who was supported by Saudi Arabia but was deposed as a result of months of demonstrations in 2011-12, had sided with the Houthi Shiites. The alliance allowed the Houthis to make rapid progress in their attacks on the government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and take control of a significant part of Yemen. Hadi fled Yemen and took refuge in Saudi Arabia; Saudi Arabia claims that one goal of the military operation is to restore “the legitimate leader” of Yemen to power. (Sahimi, M., 2015, Saudi Attack on Yemen Aims to Prevent Thaw Between Iran and the West, The World Post, 30.3.2015.) • Yemen has since become a failed state; it now only has a government in exile in Riyadh that cannot speak or act independently in the interests of Yemen. Saudi has also extensively bombed the arsenal of the Yemen army, thus ensuring that there is no possibility of a Yemeni army to police and protect its population. Moreover, Hadi is not seen as a legitimate president by sections of the Yemeni community, because he was elected in a one candidate election for a limited term that expired in February 2014, and he had already resigned and then re-instated himself without authority from the Yemeni people. In any case, Saudi Arabia is not a country that has followed democratic processes in the past. Moreover, the extensive Saudi attack means that no section of society in Yemen can function because of the extent of damage caused. The Houthi links with Iran exist but they are recent, and there is no evidence that Iran exerted any control over Yemen, and also there is no evidence that the Saudi campaign has hindered the Houthi advance. Thus the initial stated aims of Saudi Arabia seem not to have been supported by facts on the ground, the subsequent actions by Saudi Arabia, and the result of those actions. • The UN appointed special advisor, Jamal Benomar, who was appointed to oversee the transition of Yemen after 2011 resigned after the start of the Saudi bombing. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal he stated that negotiations in Yemen were continuing and a deal was possible, but start of the bombing raids had hardened all positions and complicated matters further. (Lauria, J, Coker, M., 2015; Former UN Envoy says Yemen political deal was close before Saudi airstrikes began. Wall Street Journal, 26.4.2015)

The dark green area to the left is the area in Houthi control before Saudi bombing campaign
Yemen_war_detailed_map 1.6.15
June 2015 Houthi area of control light green now extends to southern coastline

The members of the Saudi-led coalition against Yemen. Saudi Arabia all the GCC counties except Oman signed a statement of agreement before the coalition started the air attacks on Yemen on 25th March 2015. Oman has remained neutral.

• Saudi Arabia leads the coalition. Al-Arabiya reported it had deployed 100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and some naval units. These soldiers are not in Yemen but guard the border between the two countries.

• The UAE signed the GCC statement. Al-Arabiya reported it had deployed 30 fighter jets.

• Bahrain signed the GCC statement. Al-Arabiya reported it had deployed 15 fighter jets.

• Kuwait signed the GCC statement. Al-Arabiya reported it had deployed 15 fighter jets.

• Qatar signed the GCC statement. Al-Arabiya reported it had deployed 10 fighter jets.

• Jordan said its fighter jets were involved in the operation. Al-Arabiya said 6 Jordanian jets were involved.

• Sudan said its air and ground forces would take part in the operation. Al-Arabiya said three Sudanese fighter jets were involved.

• Egypt said its naval and air forces were involved in the campaign. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said ground forces could become involved “if necessary”.

• Pakistan had been asked to provide ground troops but declined to take part .

• USA and UK are supporting the coalition, but are not taking part in the combat operations. For example, it has been reported that US has helped to refuel in flight, shared intelligence, and assisted with rescue missions. Operation-Deceive-Storm-Yemen-Conflict Geneva peace talks. Saudi Arabia was not present at the UN sponsored peace talks in Geneva.

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