The face of this policy in the past was the indirect financial, military, and ideological support to the extremist groups with takfiri ideology including the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS. However, at the time being, the country’s aggressive policy under the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman put the Arab kingdom on the list of the countries and forces jeopardizing the international security, something drives to confrontation the Western and some Arab countries with Riyadh.
Recently, the AP news agency had published satellite images from a region in the center of the country, saying experts think the images belong to an area where a missile development project is underway. The images appear to show a military base deep into the Saudi territory which hosts a missile test and development site.
An expert charged with analysis of the satellite images told AP the project was “concerning,” adding that Riyadh’s missile ambitions should not be underestimated.
The images, belonging to an area close to al-Dawadmi town, 230 kilometers west of the capital Riyadh, were published a couple of days ago by the Washington Post. But the news of the Saudi missile program was first broken by Jane’s Defense Weekly in 2013. At that time, the American weekly reported that two launchers bought by the oil-wealthy monarchy from China were aimed at the Israeli regime and Iran.
Saudi Arabia’s missile program and trans-regional threats
The long-range ballistic missiles are the projectiles whose operational range goes beyond 5,000 kilometers. The report surrounding the Saudi missile program suggests that the kingdom is producing long-range missiles. With a range of 5,000 kilometers, the Saudi missiles are naturally not designed for regional targets. Very likely, the Saudis are developing their missiles for trans-regional targets.
The Saudi missile possession is nothing new. In 1988, China agreed restricted exports of missiles to Saudi Arabia. The supplied missiles model was DF-3E, all capable of nuclear warheads. The off-the-shelf missiles were in service of the Chinese army for over a decade.
Reports say their range goes beyond 3,000, which means Riyadh, having its missiles stationed in Al-Jawf and Al-Salil military bases, can reach parts of Western Europe. And the efforts for beyond 5,000 missiles reveal their intention to reach targets beyond Western Europe.
On the other hand, a part of the Saudi efforts to get long-range missiles is linked to the recent lows and highs in the country’s foreign policy and relations with the West.
Frayed relations with the West
Although Riyadh is traditionally a close ally to the Europe and the US, over the past months, their relationship has not been that warm. Their frictions reached their climatic point since the killing of the renowned Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a group of 15 hitmen apparently sent by Prince Mohammed. On the heels of the incident, some European leaders took a strong note against Saudi Arabia and promised to boycott arms sales to Riyadh.
In the US too, Saudi Arabia faces heavy pressures. Despite the fact that the US President Donald Trump remains a staunch ally of the ruling family, some Republican and many Democrat lawmakers, under pressures from the public opinion, are seeking to distance Washington from Riyadh to steer clear of humanitarian scandals caused by the Saudi aggression against the Yemeni civilians. Public pressures even sometimes move Trump against the Saudi actions. In early October, Trump attacked Saudi Arabia, saying he during a phone conversation with the Saudi king told him they cannot survive for two weeks without the American help.
The wave of criticism unleashed against the Saudi leaders sent the Saudi leaders into doubt about their full reliance on the West. Perhaps they have come up with the notion that the West is not an ally forever. So, the missile development based on home capabilities can stand as an effort to build deterrence against the West once the bilateral trust is totally lost.
Nuclear and missile programs linked?
The revelations about the missile program come while years before some reports emerged about the Saudi pursuit of domesticated uranium enrichment process for nuclear activities.
There are two approaches to Saudi nuclear in the US. One is held by the Trump administration and says that the president does not oppose Saudi Arabia having enrichment process on its soil under the condition that the American companies are given shares in the project. The other approach is held by mainly Democratic lawmakers and who believe Saudi enrichment will trigger a regional nuclear race and will practically push the region further into instability.
However, so far, no official voice in the US rose to announce the intention to curb the Saudi nuclear program. Last month, Secretary of Energy traveled to the kingdom and discussed cooperation to help build nuclear power plants for Saudi Arabia.
So, while Washington shows no determination to restrict Saudi nuclear ambitions, the missile program details are coming to the surface by the US media. Some Western experts warn that a coincidence of the two programs is not good news to the world. But the Western leaders do not show a will to limit the Saudis’ programs.
This is while Europe and the US have been tough on Iran about similar issues. While a strict supervision regime is watching Iran’s nuclear program, pressures are heavy on Tehran to bow to pressures for talks to quit its ballistic missiles development. West’s treatment of two cases in different ways exposes its double standard policy in West Asia region. This contradictory policy also affected West’s treatment of Saudi Arabia in human rights issues. The silence to the Saudi violations has expanded to include the nuclear and mission ambitions of the Saudi rulers.