Saudi Arabia Displays Ballistic Missiles in Likely Signal to Iran

Saudi security forces march during a 2009 military parade. Saudi Arabia for the first time on Tuesday displayed a pair of medium-range ballistic missiles acquired years ago from China.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
April 30, 2014, 8:25 a.m.

Saudi Ar­a­bia on Tues­day for the first time dis­played its me­di­um-range bal­list­ic mis­siles — a move that ana­lysts in­ter­preted as primar­ily aimed at Ir­an.

A pair of Dong­feng-3 mis­siles were rolled out dur­ing a mil­it­ary parade in Riy­adh. The Saudi gov­ern­ment bought the mis­siles from China in 1987 but had re­frained for dec­ades from pub­licly show­ing them off, ac­cord­ing to an ana­lys­is by the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute for Near East Policy.

The weapons tra­di­tion­ally are kept de­ployed at a base to the south of the Saudi cap­it­al, where they are po­si­tioned for pos­sible launches against Ir­an, said Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute fel­low Si­mon Hende­r­son.

In re­cent years, Saudi Ar­a­bia re­portedly ac­quired more soph­ist­ic­ated Chinese Dong­feng-21 mis­siles, but there were no re­por­ted sight­ings of those mis­siles dur­ing Tues­day’s parade.

“The mis­sile dis­play sig­nals Saudi Ar­a­bia’s de­term­in­a­tion to counter Tehran’s grow­ing strength, as well as its read­i­ness to act in­de­pend­ently of the United States,” Hende­r­son said.

Saudi Ar­a­bia is wor­ried that on­go­ing talks between world powers and Ir­an will fail to pro­duce a deal that per­man­ently ends Tehran’s po­ten­tial to con­struct a nuc­le­ar weapon. A prom­in­ent Saudi prince re­cently urged oth­er Ar­ab Gulf na­tions to de­vel­op ad­vanced atom­ic cap­ab­il­it­ies in or­der to cre­ate a “bal­ance of forces” against Ir­an.

Pakistani army chief Gen. Ra­heel Sharif was in at­tend­ance at Tues­day’s parade. His pres­ence will likely “reawaken spec­u­la­tion” that the Saudi gov­ern­ment could at­tempt to ac­quire Pakistani atom­ic weapons in or­der to counter Ir­an, Hende­r­son said.

In a blog post for Arms Con­trol Wonk, Aaron Stein, an as­so­ci­ate fel­low at the Roy­al United Ser­vices In­sti­tute, pos­ited that Saudi Ar­a­bia was try­ing to send a mes­sage to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion over “its cur­rent dis­com­fort with the way the U.S. has handled Syr­ia, the Ar­ab Spring and the Ir­a­ni­an nuc­le­ar is­sue.

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