Jordan Alarmed by Escalation in Syrian Smuggling Tactics

Syria map showing major cities as well as parts of surrounding countries and the Mediterranean Sea.

“What were initially infiltration and smuggling attempts have evolved into full-fledged armed clashes, with the explicit objective of forcibly crossing the border by targeting Jordanian border guard forces.”

Jordanian authorities are signaling growing alarm over the willingness of smugglers from Syria to use armed force to circumvent tightened Jordanian border security. This comes at a delicate moment for the kingdom due to Israel’s campaign in Gaza, given Jordan’s large Palestinian population and concerns that Jordan could become a conduit for weapons to be smuggled into the West Bank. Smuggling has long been an economic mainstay for communities along the Syria-Jordan border, especially after the Syrian government lost control of key border crossings during the Syrian civil war. Since then, smuggling across the border has become increasingly institutionalized and largely controlled by networks within the Syrian Army’s 4th Division, many of them linked to Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah. Concerns that potentially hostile armed groups control smuggling routes from Syria has led Jordan to tighten security across the shared border, in turn leading smugglers to seek new ways to circumvent border security. Recent reports and statements suggest that smuggling networks in Syria are increasingly willing to use force to get across the increasingly monitored border.

The first accompanying excerpt, from the Syrian opposition news website, explains how small-scale smuggling has “evolved into full-fledged armed clashes, with the explicit objective of forcibly crossing the border by targeting Jordanian border guard forces.” The article adds that Jordanian authorities are concerned about weapons being smuggled into the kingdom. Particularly noteworthy was a mid-December firefight in which a Jordanian border guard was killed, weapons were seized, and an airstrike took place on a purported smuggling safehouse inside Syrian territory, attributed to but not claimed by the Jordanian military. The second excerpt, also from, details the handful of weapons seized during the incident—a handful of rocket propelled grenades, mines, and sniper rifles. Although troubling from a Jordanian perspective, the small number of weapons were likely not part of the primary cargo being smuggled, but rather used by smugglers to force their way across the border. Instead, as the excerpt notes, the primary cargo was hashish and five million Captagon pills, likely destined for Saudi Arabia. The production and export of Captagon, a synthetic amphetamine-like substance—produced in Lebanon and Syria and consumed heavily in Gulf countries—has become a key part of Syria’s wartime economy.[i] The third accompanying excerpt, from the English-language Arab Weekly, claims that Jordan is inflating the threat from smugglers to “secure assistance and stronger cooperation” from Gulf countries, most prominently Saudi Arabia, the destination for much of the contraband. If evidence emerges that weapons are being smuggled across the border, concerns that these weapons could end up in the hands of Shia groups in Saudi Arabia would likely elicit a response from Riyadh. Smuggling along the Syria-Jordan border peaks in the cold winter months, due to the dense fog that often envelops the area at night, hampering visibility for those seeking to curb smugglers. While the seasonal uptick is expected, the increasing willingness of smugglers to engage in firefights with Jordanian border guards is concerning. The failure of increased Jordanian border security measures is a latent concern for Amman. Given that Iran and Hezbollah exert substantial influence over smuggling networks in Syria, the Syria-Jordan border may well become an additional regional flashpoint.


“Syrian-Jordanian Border Battle Ends With Airstrikes, Amman Hints at Iran’s Involvement,” (Syrian opposition news website) via The Syrian Observer (Syrian news aggregator), 20 December 2023.

What were initially infiltration and smuggling attempts have evolved into full-fledged armed clashes, with the explicit objective of forcibly crossing the border by targeting Jordanian border guard forces…

This form of military operations and clashes underscores the significant challenges confronting Jordan due to the Syrian regime and the escalating influence of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria. Despite the security measures and military tightening implemented by Amman along the Syrian-Jordanian border, smuggling operations have not only persisted but have also intensified. A particularly alarming security threat arising from these clashes is the initiation of arms and rocket smuggling operations, underscoring the extent of Iranian pressure on Jordan.

“حرب وقتلى” على الحدود السورية الأردنية..رسائل وتحذيرات وخيارات مفتوحة

War and death’ on the Syrian-Jordanian border… messages, warnings, and open options,” (Syrian opposition news website), 19 December 2023.

The Jordanian army seized about five million Captagon pills and about 13,000 hashish palms, in addition to 4 Rocket Launcher missiles, 4 RPG missiles, 10 anti-personnel mines, a G3 sniper rifle, and a M-16 type rifle equipped with a sniper scope.

“Is Jordan inflating smugglers’ threat on border with Syria?” The Arab Weekly (London-based Arabic-language weekly), 19 December 2023. Observers believe however that Jordan is exaggerating the developments in the border region, pointing out that the phenomenon of active gangs is not new and that most countries suffer from it. Jordan is not an exception, especially since the neighbouring country, Syria, is gripped by security chaos, observers told The Arab Weekly. They suggest the exaggeration may be related to Jordan’s desire to present itself regionally, especially to the Arab Gulf countries, as the first line of defence for regional security. The aim, according to observers, is to secure assistance and stronger cooperation.


[i] For more on the Captagon trade, see: Lucas Winter, “Pharmaceutical Drugs and the Syrian War,” OE Watch, December 2015. and Lucas Winter, “Syria Becoming Center of Illicit Drug Production and Export to Europe and Arabian Peninsula,” OE Watch, January 2021.

Image Information:

Image:  Syria map showing major cities as well as parts of surrounding countries and the Mediterranean Sea.
Source: CIA Factbook, Attribution: Public Domain

Legacy Articles On Iran

2024-04-15 Spotlight on Vatanpour, Iran’s “Most Active” Airbase (Michael Rubin)
2024-04-15 Iran Hints It Will Supply Air Defense Weaponry to Palestinians (Michael Rubin)
2024-04-15 Iran Rationalizes Russia’s Pro-Arab Position on Disputed Islands (Michael Rubin)

2024-03-01 Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Seeks Dominant Role in Maritime Development (Michael Rubin)
2024-03-01 Iran’s Supreme Leader Announces Maritime Development Strategy (Michael Rubin)
2024-03-01 Iran Seeks To Assert Global Leadership in Determining International Cyber Policy (Michael Rubin)
2024-03-01 Belarus and Iran Form Alliance Against the West (Paris Gordon)

2024-01-03 Iran Announces Integration Of Artificial Intelligence Into Drone Fleet (Michael Rubin)
2024-01-03 Iran Equips Drones With Heat-Seeking Missiles (Michael Rubin)
2024-01-03 Iran Demands Disarmament Of Kurdish Dissidents In Iraq (Michael Rubin)

2023-11-08 Iran Promoting Medical Tourism To Generate Hard Currency (Michael Rubin)
2023-11-08 Iran’s Supreme Leader Accuses West of Ukraine War Conspiracy (Michael Rubin)

2023-10-03 Iran Claims Development of Cruise Missiles Guided by Artificial Intelligence (Michael Rubin)
2023-10-03 Requirements for Desirable Iranian Oil Ministry Jobs Revealed (Michael Rubin)
2023-10-03 Iran’s Supreme Leader Warns of Declining Fervor of New Generation (Michael Rubin)

2023-08-25 Iran Claims New Flight Simulator Will Enhance National Power (Michael Rubin)
2023-08-25 Iran’s Simorgh Transport Plane Makes Maiden Flight (Michael Rubin)
2023-08-25 Iran Indicates Plans To Commercialize Nuclear Technology, Sell Heavy Water (Michael Rubin)
2023-08-25 Iran’s Persistent and Growing Influence in Latin America (Ryan Berg)

2023-06-01 Iran Unveils New Thermobaric Warhead (Michael Rubin)
2023-06-01 Iran Opens New Helicopter, Drone Base in Southeastern Provincial Capital (Michael Rubin)
2023-06-01 Iran Ready To Help Syria Rebuild Its Defense Infrastructure (Michael Rubin)

2023-05-01 Iran Installs New Precision Missiles on Army Helicopters (Michael Rubin)
2023-05-01 Iran Seeks To Reestablish Embassy and Consulate in Saudi Arabia Before Hajj (Michael Rubin)
2023-05-01 Iran Considers Rapprochement With Pakistan (Michael Rubin)

2023-04-01 Iran Unveils Updated Yasin Training Jet With Possible Close Combat Applications (Michael Rubin)
2023-04-01 Iran’s Increased Defense Budget Leading to More Arms Exports (Michael Rubin)
2023-04-01 Iran Capitalizing on Post-Earthquake Conditions To Deepen Influence in Syria (Lucas Winter)

2023-03-01 Iran Praises Revolutionary Guards’ Proxy Afghan Brigade (Michael Rubin)
2023-03-01 Iran Profiles the Female Police Seeking To Quell the Women’s Protests (Michael Rubin)

2023-02-01 Iran Moves Sea-Borne Drone Fleet Closer to Reality (Michael Rubin)
2023-02-01 Iranian General Reiterates Goal To Expel United States From Region (Michael Rubin)
2023-02-01 Iran Fires Indigenous Torpedoes From Submarines for First Time (Michael Rubin)

2023-01-01 Iran Asks Tajikistan Not To Use Iranian Drones in Dispute With Kyrgyzstan (Michael Rubin)
2023-01-01 Iran Claim of Hypersonic Missile Capability Probably Exaggerated (Michael Rubin)

2022-11-01 Iran Vaunts Persian Language as Marker of National Identity Despite Country’s Ethnic Diversity (Michael Rubin)
2022-11-01 Iran’s Proposal To Build Railroads and Housing in Syria Could Enrich IRGC (Michael Rubin)
2022-11-01 Iran Lauds Air Defense, Claims Sepehr Radar Will Soon Be Operational (Michael Rubin)

2022-10-01 Iran Wants Sukhoi-35 Fighters From Russia (Michael Rubin)
2022-10-01 Iran Intercepts Crystal Meth Shipment From Afghanistan (Michael Rubin)

2022-09-01 Iran Reportedly Using New Carrier, Submarines To Expand Reach of Drones (Michael Rubin)
2022-09-01 Iran Unveils Stealth Speedboats (Michael Rubin)
2022-09-01 Iran’s Flawed Statistics and Growing Drug Addiction (Michael Rubin)

2022-08-01 Iranian F-14 Crash Highlights Iran’s Need for New Fighter Contract (Michael Rubin)
2022-08-01 Iranian Trade With China Is Up, but So Is Political Risk (Michael Rubin)
2022-08-01 Iran’s Revolutionary Guards To Expand Drug Treatment Center (Michael Rubin)
2022-08-01 Iran Believes Turkey’s Rapprochement With Israel and Saudi Arabia Is a Threat (Ihsan Gunduz)

2022-07-01 Iran Unveils New Drone-Fired Cruise Missile (Michael Rubin)
2022-07-01 Iran Opens New Drone Plant in Tajikistan (Michael Rubin)
2022-07-01 Iran Warns UAE Against Allowing Israel in the Persian Gulf (Michael Rubin)

2022-06-01 Khamenei Speaks on Necessity of Palestinian “Resistance” (Michael Rubin)
2022-06-01 Iran Initiates and Defends New Bread Subsidies Amid Deteriorating Economy (Michael Rubin)
2022-06-01 Iran Seeks To Counter Misinformation Circulating on Social Media (Michael Rubin)

2022-05-01 Iran Digs into Central Syria, Filling Vacuum Left by Russia (Lucas Winter)
2022-05-01 Iran Tries To Justify Abstention in UN Vote Condemning Russian Invasion of Ukraine (Michael Rubin)
2022-05-01 Iranian Navy Joins Indian Naval Exercises (Michael Rubin)
2022-05-01 Iran’s New Damavand Destroyer Set To Join Navy (Michael Rubin)

2022-04-01 Iran: Emphasizing Religiosity in Regular Army Promotions (Michael Rubin)
2022-04-01 Iran Uses Online War Games To Teach Younger Generation of Officers (Michael Rubin)
2022-04-01 Iran’s Supreme Leader Condemns Alleged Corruption of the West (Michael Rubin)
2022-04-01 Iran Repositions Its Proxies in Syria as Russia Turns Focus to Ukraine (Lucas Winter)

2022-03-01 Iranian Authorities Arrest Alleged Deputy Leader of Royalist Terrorist Group (Michael Rubin)
2022-03-01 Iran’s Prosecution of Arab Separatist Highlights Supposed Saudi Ties (Michael Rubin)
2022-03-01 Russia and China To Help Iran Build New Airports (Michael Rubin)

2022-02-01 Iran and Syria Discuss Transportation Cooperation (Michael Rubin)
2022-02-01 Iran’s Purported Counter-Hijacking Record (Michael Rubin)
2022-02-01 Iran Busts Weapons and Ammunition Smuggling Ring (Michael Rubin)

2022-01-01 Iran-Pakistan Bolstering Naval Cooperation (Michael Rubin)
2022-01-01 Iran Agrees To Gas Swap with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan (Michael Rubin)
2022-01-01 Iran and Syria Seek To Jumpstart Economic Ties (Michael Rubin)

2021-04-01 IRAN Unveils New Baman Radar System (Michael Rubin)
2020-10-01 Iran Stockpiling Supplies through Chahbahar (Michael Rubin)

2020-09-01 More Iran in Venezuela (Geoff Demarest)
2020-09-01 Iran Increases Range of Smart Bombs (Michael Rubin)
2020-09-01 Iran: Passive Defense Organization and Basij Sign Memorandum of Understanding (Michael Rubin)
2020-09-01 Iran: Khamenei Speaks on Sanctions, Enmity toward America, and Nuclear Power (Michael Rubin)

2020-08-01 Iran: Khamenei Speaks on Corruption (Michael Rubin)
2020-08-01 Iran: What’s Behind the Government’s Secrecy on Handing Over Kish Island to Chinese? (Michael Rubin)
2020-08-01 Iran Eager to Enter the Global Market as a Military Equipment Exporter (Jerrilee Plude)
2020-08-01 China and Iran Announce $400 Billion Trade Deal (Peter Wood)

2020-07-01 Russian Arms Sales to Iran? (Ray Finch)
2020-07-01 An Afghan Perspective: A New Phase in Afghanistan-Iran Relations (Michael Rubin)
2020-07-01 More Iran in Venezuela (Geoff Demarest)
2020-07-01 The Three Main Missions of the Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Michael Rubin)

2020-06-01 Iran: Prosecute Cybercriminals (Michael Rubin)
2020-06-01 Iran Improves its UAV Technology (Robert Bunker and Alma Keshvarz)

2020-05-01 Iran: Khamenei on Power and Patience (Michael Rubin)
2020-05-01 Iran Unveils Ghadir Submarine Upgrades (Michael Rubin)
2020-05-01 India Evacuates its Citizens from Iran (Michael Rubin)
2020-05-01 Iran Announces Mass Production of COVID-19 Test Kits (Jerrilee Plude)

2020-04-01 Israel Establishes New ‘Strategy and Iran Directorate’ Under General Staff (Zachary Fesen)
2020-04-01 Iran: Sanctions Don’t Impact Military Spending (Michael Rubin)
2020-04-01 Iran: IRGC Establishes Biological Defense Headquarters (Michael Rubin)

2020-03-01 Counterfeit Bank Notes Seized in Iran (Michael Rubin)
2020-03-01 Iran-Increasing Domestic Production of Rare Earth Elements (Michael Rubin)
2020-02-01 Iran to Send Astronaut into Space? (Michael Rubin)

2020-01-01 Iran: Identity Theft and Extortion in Isfahan (Michael Rubin)
2020-01-01 Iran and Russia to Establish Visa Waivers (Michael Rubin)
2020-01-01 Iran: Use Suicide Drones as Air Defense (Michael Rubin)
2020-01-01 Iran, China, and Russia Plan Joint Naval Drills in Indian Ocean (Zachary Fesen)

2019-12-01 Iran- Khamenei Speaks on America (Michael Rubin)
2019-12-01 Iran Establishes Official VPN Operators (Michael Rubin)

2019-11-01 Iran and Turkey- Friend or Foe (Ihsan Gunduz)
2019-11-01 Iran Opens Persian Gulf Air Defense Command Center (Michael Rubin)
2019-11-01 Iran- Mobile Rocket Systems and Underground Tunnels (Michael Rubin)
2019-11-01 Iran Announces Dome Defense against Drones (Michael Rubin)

2019-10-01 Iran- Khamenei Speaks on Kashmir (Michael Rubin)
2019-10-01 Iran- Armed Forces Ready to Take Over National Intranet Project (Michael Rubin)
2019-10-01 Israel- Iran’s Military Entrenchment in Iraq Poses Threat (Karen Kaya)

2019-09-01 Iran Warns of Phone and Text Scams (Michael Rubin)
2019-09-01 Iran – Mohajer-6 UAV Strikes Targets in Iraq (Michael Rubin)
2019-09-01 Iran’s Negotiations with Domestic Kurdish Opposition Groups (Ihsan Gunduz)
2019-08-01 Iran: Optoelectronic Military Developments (Michael Rubin)

2019-07-01 Iran: Progress on National Intranet (Michael Rubin)
2019-07-01 Iran: Nationwide Curriculum for Computer Programming (Michael Rubin)
2019-07-01 Iran: Preparing for Zafar III Satellite Launch (Michael Rubin)
2019-07-01 Iran: Admiral Fadavi Selected as Revolutionary Guards Deputy (Michael Rubin)
2019-06-01 The Dynamics of Trilateral Relations between Turkey, Russia, and Iran (Ihsan Gunduz)

2019-05-01 Iran Cements its Presence in Syria (Lucas Winter)
2019-05-01 Iran: Khamenei Threatens to Use Precision Missiles (Michael Rubin)
2019-05-01 Iran Conducts its Largest UAV Exercise (Michael Rubin)

2019-04-01 Iran: Hovercraft successfully fires cruise missiles (Michael Rubin)
2019-04-01 Iran Diverting Money from Development to Military (Michael Rubin)
2019-03-01 Iran Builds Up Syrian Proxies on the Western Banks of the Euphrates (Lucas Winter)
2019-02-01 IRGC: Iran Can Extend Ballistic Missile Range (Michael Rubin)

2019-01-01 Iran’s Basij in Cyberspace (Michael Rubin)
2019-01-01 Iran Unveils JDAMs? (Michael Rubin)
2019-01-01 China, Russia and Iran Seek to Revive Syrian Railways (Lucas Winter)

2018-11-01 Iran to Build New Missile System? (Michael Rubin)
2018-11-01 Supreme Leader’s Advisor- United States Common Enemy of Iran and China (Michael Rubin)
2018-09-01 Will Iran Pivot to the East (Michael Rubin)
2018-09-01 Iran: IAEA Shouldn’t Inspect Universities (Michael Rubin)
2018-09-01 Russia and Iran Hamper Turkey’s Aspirations to Become Energy Hub (Ihsan Gunduz)

2018-08-01 Questions on Shortfalls in Electricity Generation in Iran (Michael Rubin)
2018-08-01 Achieving Gasoline Self-Sufficiency in Iran (Michael Rubin)
2018-08-01 Visit of Chinese Military Delegation to Iran (Michael Rubin)
2018-08-01 Iran to Re-Launch “Helicopter Carrier” (Michael Rubin)
2018-08-01 Iran Preparing to Host Nanotechnology Festival (Michael Rubin)
2018-08-01 Iran to Launch New Satellite by Year’s End (Michael Rubin)

2018-07-01 Group Planning to Hack Bank in Iran Arrested (Michael Rubin)
2018-07-01 Who Took $30 Billion out of Iran? (Michael Rubin)
2018-07-01 Iran to Attend Russian Military Trade Show (Michael Rubin)
2018-07-01 Iran Cracks Down on Internet Café VPNs (Michael Rubin)

2018-06-01 Iran, Russia to Jointly Manufacture Helicopter (Michael Rubin)
2018-06-01 Iran Unveils New Unmanned Helicopter (Michael Rubin)
2018-06-01 Russia and Iran Compete for Syria’s Phosphates (Lucas Winter)
2018-06-01 Is Iran Ready to Send Its Navy to Japan (Michael Rubin)

2018-05-01 Iran and Russia Compete for Influence in Syria (Lucas Winter)
2018-05-01 Will Iran Interfere in Kashmir? (Michael Rubin)
2018-05-01 Iran and Russia Compete for Influence in Syria (Lucas Winter)
2018-05-01 Iran and Russia Compete for Influence in Syria (Lucas Winter)
2018-05-01 Will Iran Interfere in Kashmir? (Michael Rubin)
2018-05-01 Iran and Russia Compete for Influence in Syria (Lucas Winter)

2018-04-01 13 Million Users of Domestic Messaging Apps in Iran (Michael Rubin)
2018-04-01 Iran: Supreme Leader Advisor Lauds Russian Strategic Ties (Michael Rubin)
2018-04-01 Iran: Muslims Supported by US, UK are Illegitimate (Michael Rubin)
2018-04-01 Iran: Israel’s Missile Defense Can Be Overwhelmed (Michael Rubin)
2018-04-01 Iran Unveils New Anti-Armor Missile (Michael Rubin)

2018-03-01 Iran: Warship Sinks after Mishap (Michael Rubin)
2018-03-01 Iran: Winning Hearts and Minds in Deir Ezzor (Lucas Winter)
2018-03-01 Iran Develops UAS with “Smart Bomb” Capability (Alma Keshavarz and Robert Bunker)
2018-03-01 Iran: US Sponsoring Islamic State in Afghanistan (Michael Rubin)
2018-03-01 Iran: Winning Hearts and Minds in Deir Ezzor (Lucas Winter)
2018-03-01 Iran: Telegram Giving Data to US and Israel (MIchael Rubin)

2018-02-01 A Malaysian Perspective on US-Iran Relations (Jacob Zenn)
2018-02-01 Turkish Perspectives on Iran (Karen Kaya)
2018-02-01 Iran: Was America Behind Uprising? (Michael Rubin)
2018-02-01 Iran: Lifting the Ban on Instagram was Illegal (Michael Rubin)

2018-02-01 Iran Approaches the Syria-Jordan Border (Lucas Winter)
2018-02-01 Indonesian Perspectives on the Iran Protests (Jacob Zenn)
2018-02-01 India’s Interest in Stability in Iran (Matthew Stein)
2018-02-01 China Limits Internet Exposure to Iran Protests (Jacob Zenn)
2018-02-01 Saudi-Iran Tensions Seen in Nigerian Crackdown on Shia Group (Jacob Zenn)

2018-01-01 Iran: New Military Budget Proposed (Michael Rubin)
2018-01-01 Iran-Khamenei Speaks on Views toward America (Michael Rubin)
2018-01-01 Iran’s Amphibious Aircraft from Russia (Michael Rubin

India’s Security Engagement With Egypt and Saudi Arabia Evolving

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Mohammad bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (2016)

“The military-to-military ties are likely to develop further, with greater efforts toward interoperability and understanding each other’s security concerns…” 

India’s military influence activities continue to increase in key Arab countries Egypt and Saudi Arabia.[i] In May 2023, the commanders of the Indian and Egyptian armies met in Cairo to discuss deepening bilateral military cooperation, as reported in the first accompanying excerpt, from the Twitter account of the Indian Embassy in Cairo. The meeting follows up on earlier high-level engagements discussing defense cooperation, most notably Egyptian President Sisi’s January 2023 visit to India. Their armies conducted a bilateral exercise in Egypt in January, and earlier in May, the Indian and Egyptian air forces also conducted joint training, as mentioned in the second accompanying excerpt from the Egyptian defense ministry website. Egypt is seen as a possible gateway for Indian weapons sales to Africawith rumors of looming weapons sales and possible joint production agreements between the two countries.

The Indian military has also increasingly engaged with their Saudi counterparts. Indian and Saudi naval forces held a training exercise in the Persian Gulf in May, concurrent with a 3-week training program for around 50 Saudi naval personnel in India. India-Saudi military ties “are likely to develop further, with greater efforts toward interoperability and understanding each other’s security concerns,” according to an Indian defense expert cited in the excerpt from the Saudi English-language daily Arab News. The two countries’ heads of state spoke in June on deepening relations in several areas, including defense.[ii] Saudi Arabia remains among the top global arms importers and an attractive potential customer for the Indian weapons industry. Saudi media is enamored of the narrative of multipolarity but rarely considers India as part of the great power competition discussion. India’s strategic importance is evaluated through the lens of its membership in non-Western multilateral organizations such as BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt recently became SCO dialogue partners and have moved toward greater involvement in BRICS institutions.[iii] India’s growing security involvement in the Arab world bears watching even though it remains overshadowed by the specter of growing Russian and Chinese influence in the region.


@indembcairo. Twitter, 15 May 2023. 

Indian Army Chief General Manoj Pande proceeded on a three-day visit to Egypt. The visit will provide an opportunity to enhance bilateral #DefenceCooperation and strengthen cooperation in areas of mutual interest.

“The Egyptian And The Indian Air Forces Carry Out A Joint Air Training At An Egyptian Air Base,” Egyptian Ministry of Defense Website, 8 March 2023.

Within the framework of supporting and strengthening military cooperation relations with friendly and brotherly countries, the Egyptian and Indian Air Forces carried out a joint air exercise at an Egyptian air base. The training included implementation of a number of joint drills, including training on aerial refueling, which contributes to the exchange of training experiences between the elements participating from both sides

“Indian navy chief welcomes Saudi cadets during first joint training,” Arab News (English-language Saudi daily), 2 June 2023.  

Muddassir Quamar, a Middle East expert and associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said there have also been efforts to develop cooperation in nonconventional defense areas, as well as the defense industry. “The military-to-military ties are likely to develop further, with greater efforts toward interoperability and understanding each other’s security concerns,” he told Arab News.


[i] For background see: “India-Egypt Ties: Sharply Rising Graph of Engagement,” Bharatshakti (Indian defense publication), 12 December 2022. and “How India-Saudi Arabia Strategic Ties Are Deepening, And Will Help The Defence Industry,” ABP News (Indian news network), 28 May 2023.

[ii] “PM Modi, Saudi Crown Prince review ties with focus on connectivity and defence,” Hindustan Times (Indian daily), 9 June 2023.

[iii] Egypt recently became an official member of the New Development Bank, sometimes referred to as the “BRICS bank,” and Saudi Arabia is reportedly in talks to join. Saudi Arabia and Egypt have also both expressed interest in BRICS membership and are considered potential candidates were the group to expand.

Image Information:

Image:  Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting Mohammad bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (2016) 
Source: Prime Minister’s Office, Government of India, via Wikimedia Commons,_Deputy_Crown_Prince_of_Saudi_Arabia.jpg    
Attribution: CC BY-SA 2.0 

Key Arab Countries Join Chinese-Led Regional Body as Dialogue Partners

Shanghai Cooperation Organization Secretariat (2022).

Shanghai Cooperation Organization Secretariat (2022).

“… The group’s expansion, however, should not be interpreted as meant to pose a challenge to the West, but rather as a means to provide an alternative…”

A growing number of Arab countries are joining the Chinese-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as “dialogue partners.” The SCO was established in the early 2000s as a mechanism for deepening political, economic, and security cooperation between countries of Central and South Asia. It has eight member nations (China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) and over a dozen “observer” and “dialogue partner” nations, which may send delegates to SCO meetings and negotiate with the bloc on particular issues but do not have voting rights or official sway within the organization.

In the past year, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have all been officially granted “dialogue partner” status, with Bahrain expected to follow suit. With this, roughly two-thirds of countries in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility have joined the SCO in some capacity.[i] While these developments bear watching, SCO partnership is—at least for now—not necessarily at odds with existing security commitments and arrangements.[ii] Instead, engagement with the SCO is seen as part of a strategic diversification approach being pursued by Arab countries in response to emerging multipolarity. Arabic-language media largely sees these moves through an economic lens and as part of what the first accompanying excerpt, published in the Qatari-aligned daily al-Araby al-Jadeed, considers China’s “efforts to consolidate a new multipolar world economic order.” Arab countries’ interest in the SCO, however, should not be dismissed as a purely economic phenomenon bereft of potential strategic implications. According to a former Egyptian diplomat cited in the second accompanying article, published last September in the prominent Saudi daily al-Sharq al-Awsat, Russia will seek to use the SCO “as an additional point in its confrontations with the West.” Russian attempts to use the SCO for strategic leverage against NATO would likely cause friction within the organization, clashing not only with China’s more regional and economic focus but also with the strategic interests of other SCO members. Nonetheless, growing Russo-Chinese geostrategic alignment may eventually enable the SCO’s orientation to gradually shift toward global geopolitics, particularly if its membership begins extending beyond Central and South Asia. Especially noteworthy in this regard is Iran’s interest in full SCO membership (it is currently an observer country). This interest, combined with the recent China-mediated Saudi-Iranian détente, makes the SCO a potential venue through which Iran may seek to compete with the United States. Last April, Iran was for the first time invited to participate in the SCO defense ministers’ meeting in New Delhi. As reported in the third accompanying excerpt, from the pro-Iranian Lebanese media outlet al-Mayadeen, Iran’s Defense Minister called for the establishing of a “Shanghai Maritime Security Belt” and more broadly using the SCO to promote a “balance of power.” Iranian ambitions notwithstanding, the SCO remains an “alternative” rather than a “challenge” to the West, as articulated by an Indian journalist cited in the fourth accompanying excerpt, from the Saudi English-language daily Arab News. Still, in a competitive world, today’s alternatives may become tomorrow’s challenges. Present Arab involvement in the SCO remains limited and largely economic in nature, but the potential for this involvement to morph in a way that that erodes U.S.-Arab security partnerships, while not imminent, is worthy of consideration.


“منظمة شنغهاي.. ترسيخ الصين لاقتصاد التعددية القطبية يتمدّد عربياً

(Shanghai Organization.. China’s consolidation of the multipolar economy is expanding in the Arab world),” al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 16 April 2023.

China is seeking to attract a larger number of economically active countries to membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, as part of its efforts to consolidate a new multipolar world economic order.

“ماذا يعني انضمام 5 دول عربية إلى منظمة «شنغهاي»؟

(What does the accession of 5 Arab countries to the ‘Shanghai Organization’ mean?).” al-Sharq al-Awsat (influential Saudi daily), 17 September 2022.

Ambassador Raouf Saad, the former Egyptian assistant foreign minister and former Egyptian ambassador to Moscow, acknowledged that Russia will work to exploit the matter as an additional point in its confrontations with the West. However, he stressed the constants of Egyptian foreign policy, which refuses to “enter into alliances directed at the expense of its interests.”

“وزير الدفاع الإيراني: يجب تفعيل حزام الأمن البحري لمنظمة “شنغهاي

(Iranian Defense Minister: The ‘Shanghai Organization’ maritime security belt must be activated,)” al-Mayadeen (pro-Iran Lebanese media outlet), 29 April 2023.

Today, Saturday, the Iranian Minister of Defense, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, proposed adopting the “Shanghai Maritime Security Belt” mechanism with the aim of maintaining the security of communication lines and collectively guaranteeing global trade with the participation of the armed forces of member states…

During his remarks at the meeting of defense ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization member states in New Delhi, India, Ashtiani said that the achievements of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization “should promote global multilateralism and balance of power.”

“Middle Eastern participation grows in China-led security bloc as new countries join,” Arab News (English-language Saudi daily), 5 May 2023.
“It is a question of moving the weight or the center of gravity from the Western world — the US and EU combined — to the Eastern world, the place where the population of the world actually now exists overwhelmingly, the place where the fastest-growing economies are also present,” Suhashini Haidar, diplomatic editor at the English-language daily the Hindu, told Arab News. The group’s expansion, however, should not be interpreted as meant to pose a challenge to the West, but rather as a means to provide an alternative, she said.


[i] Of the 21 countries in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility, only eight (Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Yemen) do not have any status in the SCO. However, Iraq, Israel, and Syria have all applied for dialogue partner status, while Turkmenistan has attended SCO summits as a guest attendee. That leaves Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, and Yemen as the only countries with no relationship to the SCO.

[ii] SCO partnership alone means little in terms of defense commitments: Turkey, a NATO member, is an SCO dialogue partner.  Full membership in the SCO should also not be equated to membership in a defense alliance, such as NATO, given that both India and Pakistan are full members. Armenia and Azerbaijan, which have an adversarial relationship with one another, are both dialogue partners.

Image Information:

Image: Shanghai Cooperation Organization Secretariat (2022).
Source: N509FZ,
Attribution: CC 4.0

South Korea Bolsters Defense Collaboration in the Arabian Peninsula

K239 Chunmoo Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS).

“…The two sides agreed to further develop the bilateral relationship to a ‘future-oriented strategic partnership’…”

South Korea is showing itself to be a potentially important player in the security landscape of the Arabian Peninsula thanks to deepening defense cooperation with both Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The most tangible Korean inroads in this regard have come from arms sales. In 2021, the UAE became the first publicly known export destination for the South Korean-produced K239 Chunmoo rocket artillery system[GRLCUT(1] . Similarly, in 2022, the UAE became the first export destination for the South Korean-produced KM-SAM (Cheongung II) air defense system[GRLCUT(2] . For its part, in April 2023, Saudi Arabia revealed its own previously undisclosed K239s, deployed along its border with Yemen.  The revelation came in a video posted on Twitter by the Saudi defense ministry. This disclosure follows a visit in March 2023 of Saudi Arabia’s defense minister to South Korea. As noted in the first accompanying excerpt, from South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, the trip may have been partly related to Saudi interest in acquiring KM-SAM systems. South Korea appears poised to become an important actor in the lucrative Gulf states arms market.

Saudi Arabia aspires to develop a robust indigenous defense industry, in line with the country’s Vision 2030 strategic development plan. China has emerged as an important partner in these efforts; South Korea, it seems, is well positioned to follow suit.[i] Beyond merely arms sales, South Korean defense companies have shown a willingness to establish joint production ventures with countries in the Middle East.[ii] In 2019, leading Saudi and South Korean defense entities signed a memorandum to form a Riyadh-based joint venture company focused on manufacturing and selling ammunition inside Saudi Arabia, to be called SAMI-Hanwha Munitions Systems. As reported in the second excerpted article, from the South Korean English-language daily Korea JoongAng Daily, the same entities inked a contract worth nearly $1 billion involving undisclosed “support for Saudi Arabia’s defense capabilities and supply chain services” at the 2022 Saudi World Defense Show. 


“S. Korean, Saudi defense chiefs agree on regular ministerial dialogue on defense cooperation,” Yonhap News Agency (South Korea news agency), 7 March 2023.

The defense chiefs of South Korea and Saudi Arabia agreed Tuesday to install a regular ministerial-level dialogue on arms industry cooperation during their talks in Seoul, the defense ministry here said… [South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup] expressed expectations that ongoing negotiations on South Korea’s defense exports to Saudi Arabia will be concluded successfully, while explaining progress that the country’s arms industry has made. The ministry did not elaborate on the negotiations. Saudi Arabia is known to be considering the introduction of the South Korean-made Cheongung II midrange surface-to-air missile system.

“Time is ripe for Korea to sell Saudi Arabia more weapons,” Korea JoongAng Daily (South Korean English-language daily), 16 November 2022.  

Hanwha’s contract, worth 3 billion riyals, entails company support for Saudi Arabia’s defense capabilities and supply chain services. Both sides declined to specify which weapons would be supported under the agreement, citing a confidentiality clause. 


[i] For more on Chinese inroads in Gulf country defense industries, see: Lucas Winter, “Chinese-Arab Summit Signals Growing Saudi-Chinese Defense Alignment,” OE Watch, 2-2023.

[ii] Last year, South Korea and Egypt signed a sale and co-production deal for the Korean K-9 howitzer. For more on the deal, see: “Egypt, South Korea sign deals for joint manufacturing of K-9 howitzers.” al-Ahram (Egyptian daily), 26 February 2022.,-South-Korea-sign-deals-for-joint-manufactur.aspx

Image Information:

Image:  K239 Chunmoo Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS)
Attribution: CC 3.0

Iran Seeks To Reestablish Embassy and Consulate in Saudi Arabia Before Hajj

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kana'ani speaks to the Islamic Republic News Agency in a November 2022 file photo.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kana’ani speaks to the Islamic Republic News Agency in a November 2022 file photo.

“Efforts will be made to reopen and activate our country’s diplomatic representations before the annual Hajj.”

On 10 March 2023, regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia announced a deal to restore diplomatic relations for the first time in more than seven years. On 6 April 2023, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, met in Beijing to discuss the technicalities of resuming ties. According to the excerpted article from the Iran-based Hamshahri newspaper, these diplomatic efforts are taking place in earnest to normalize relations before the Hajj, which begins 26 June 2023.[i] Iran-Saudi ties have long been fraught. While ethnic tension between the two Middle East regional powers predates Iran’s Islamic Revolution, sectarian and ideological differences in the post-1979 period created significantly more hostility.[ii] Both countries accuse the other of supporting terrorist groups targeting the other.[iii] So, while the restoration of diplomatic relations may appear straightforward, Iran’s track record breeds suspicion, especially regarding the Hajj. In 1986, the head of the predecessor to the Quds Force, sought to infiltrate saboteurs into Mecca under cover of the Hajj to unleash a bombing campaign. The following year, clashes erupted between Iranian demonstrators and Saudi security forces, leading to the deaths of more than 400 pilgrims. Despite Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s willingness to reconcile with Iran, Saudi security forces and intelligence will tread carefully, especially regarding the size of the mission and the freedoms Iranian diplomats might enjoy inside the Kingdom. During the 1986 incident, hardline ideologues within Iran’s security services ignored the Iranian government’s desire to break out of its isolation. Almost four decades later, it remains to be seen if the same dynamics are at play, especially as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps do not fall under the authority of either President Ebrahim Raisi or Foreign Minister Abdollahian.


“Talash baraye Rahandazi Saferat-e Iran dar Arabistan qabl az Ayam-e Hajj (The Struggle to Set Up an Iranian Embassy in Saudi Arabia before the Hajj),” Hamshahri (mass circulation general newspaper), 12 April 2023.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kana’ani said that an Iranian technical delegation arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday [April 12] at noon in a new step toward the implementation of the agreement between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Saudi Arabia to resume formal relations and diplomatic activities of political and consular representations of the two countries. Saudi officials welcomed the delegation.

The spokesman added that the Iranian delegation divided into two working groups to take the necessary measures to set up the embassy and consulate general in Riyadh and Jeddah respectively and also to discuss reestablishment of a permanent representation of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the [Jeddah-based] Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman also added that the Saudi technical delegation, which arrived in Iran on Saturday [April 8, 2022], will leave for Mashhad tomorrow [April 13, 2022].“Efforts will be made to reopen and activate our country’s diplomatic representations before the annual Hajj,” the spokesman added.


[i] Within the United States, much of the ensuing coverage and commentary focuses on China’s role as diplomatic broker, but Iranian discussion largely focuses on the technicalities and timeframe for resuming its diplomatic missions in the Kingdom.

[ii] Saudi Arabia was among Iraq’s most generous financial backers during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. After clashes at the Hajj in 1987, Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran, a freeze that lasted close to four years. During the 1990s, there was a brief rapprochement, but tensions renewed after the 2003 U.S.-led ouster of Saddam Hussein as Iranian-backed militias grew more powerful in Iraq at the expense of the country’s Sunni Arabs. In 2012, protests that Saudi authorities accused Iran of instigating wracked Saudi Arabia’s Shiite-dominated Eastern Province. Saudi Arabia responded with brute force, killing dozens and arrested Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, Saudi Arabia’s top Shiite scholar, who Saudi Arabia later executed. For more on the dynamics at the time, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran Demands Release of Nigerian Shi’ite Cleric” OE Watch, September 2016.

[iii] For example, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran’s Prosecution of Arab Separatist Highlights Supposed Saudi Ties” OE Watch, 3-2022.

Image Information:

Image: Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kana’ani speaks to the Islamic Republic News Agency in a November 2022 file photo.
Attribution: Islamic Republic News Agency

Chinese-Arab Summit Signals Growing Saudi-Chinese Defense Alignment

Flag of Saudi Arabia.

Flag of Saudi Arabia.

“… Saudi Arabia spent $1.4 billion (5.1 billion riyals) in incentives to boost its local military sector over the last two years …”

Much of the Saudi reporting and commentary on Xi Jinping’s December 2022 visit to Riyadh highlighted the visit as a turning point in the birth of a new, multipolar world order. Commentators in Saudi media consider the kingdom a key player in this new world order, one that can maintain good relations and effectively balance between competing poles of global power to safeguard its own national interests. In this view, as articulated in the first accompanying excerpt from the influential Saudi daily al-Sharq al-Awsat, expressions of deepening Saudi-Chinese relations do not by definition threaten the Saudi-U.S. security partnership, but rather are signals of engagement “based on common interests.” 

Statements and agreements from the Saudi-organized Chinese-Arab summit revealed a growing alignment of Saudi and Chinese defense priorities that could put pressure on a key pillar of the Saudi-U.S. strategic partnership—arms sales. For now, China seems in no position to surpass the United States as a Saudi weapons supplier: between 2000-2019, the United States accounted for 60 percent of Saudi arms imports by value, while Chinese arms constituted less than 1 percent.[i] The fact that no weapons deals were signed or even publicly discussed during Xi’s visit to Riyadh indicates that arms trade is not yet a priority in the Saudi-Chinese relationship, although this may also be because the two sides had reportedly signed a blockbuster arms deal at the Zuhai Air Show only one month before the summit.[ii]

From the Saudi perspective, reducing its arms imports has become a key priority. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has begun shifting its defense priorities to better align with the kingdom’s “Vision 2030,” which includes localizing weapons manufacturing and developing an indigenous, high-tech national defense industrial base.[iii] As noted in the second accompanying excerpt, from the Saudi news channel al-Arabiya, the director of the Saudi military industry’s regulatory body explained that the kingdom has in the past two years channeled $1.4 billion toward “incentives to boost its local military sector.” Speaking at the Saudi 2023 Budget Forum last December, he added that more than half of that money has gone into research and development, mostly in Saudi Arabia’s priority defense production sectors, which include “unmanned systems, radars and cybersecurity.” Thus, it seems likely that licensing agreements and technology sharing, rather than weapons sales, will emerge as a centerpiece in future Saudi Arabian defense partnerships.

Many of the deals signed at the Chinese-Arab summit were memorandums of understanding and other documents of intent expressing a shared vision and approach, rather than contractual agreements. Notable domains where a bilateral shared vision and intent to deepen cooperation were expressed include space, information technology, telecommunications, and artificial intelligence. The two countries also signed a wide-ranging “digital economic partnership,” which covers a vast array of new technologies, detailed in the third accompanying excerpt, from the official Saudi news agency’s press release on the agreement. These various agreements and statements of intent, although not essentially military in nature, will likely bolster a growing partnership in high-tech weaponry such as unmanned systems, and are likely to feed into the kingdom’s broader defense and security efforts over the next decade.


“العلاقات السعودية ـ الصينية وحسابات المصالح

Hoda al-Husseini. (Saudi-Chinese relations and the calculation of interests),” al-Sharq al-Awsat (influential Saudi daily), 8 December 2022.

… Saudi Arabia does not seek to replace the U.S.’s role in the Middle East and stop considering it the main guarantor of regional security; rather, it seeks to find a balance through which it safeguards its own interests. The relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States is deeper and greater than a crisis with a transient American administration. At the summit, Prince Mohammed bin Salman will prove to the Chinese president that the Kingdom cannot be infiltrated by benefiting from tensions, but rather must be engaged through equal interaction based on common interests.

“Saudi Arabia spent $1.4 bln in incentives to boost local military sector in 2021-22,” al-Arabiya English (influential Saudi news media channel), 12 December 2022.

Saudi Arabia spent $1.4 billion (5.1 billion riyals) in incentives to boost its local military sector over the last two years, the governor of the sector’s general authority Ahmed al-Ohali said on Monday…

SAMI’s chief executive officer Walid Abukhaled said the company will focus on unmanned systems, radars and cybersecurity in coming years. Both were speaking at a forum in Riyadh on Monday, in the wake of Saudi Arabia’s 2023 budget announcements.

“Saudi Arabia and China Strengthen Strategic Partnership in Digital Economy,” SPA – Saudi Press Agency (official Saudi news agency), 9 December 2022.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has signed a strategic partnership for cooperation in the fields of digital economy with the People’s Republic of China, as part of the framework of the current official visit of President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China to the Kingdom…The partnership develops a framework for cooperation between the two friendly countries, covering the fields of digital economy, communications and information technology, and promoting research and innovation in the field of emerging technologies, in addition to improving aspects of communications infrastructure, and enabling the growth of digital entrepreneurship through emerging business models such as financial technology and e-commerce. It also covers cooperation in the fields of artificial intelligence, advanced computing and quantum information technology, in addition to robots and smart equipment, and work to develop their technologies and applications for industrial and commercial purposes. Moreover, this partnership memorandum aims at enhancing the two friendly countries’ cooperation in the fields of the modern generation of mobile communications technology and emerging technologies. Within the framework of this partnership, the two sides will also cooperate in the field of digital technology applications and radio frequency spectrum management, in addition to their cooperation in developing and building local capabilities in communication and data centers, developing digital platforms and cloud computing services, and expanding submarine cable projects.


[i] “Arms Sales in the Middle East: Trends and Analytical Perspectives for U.S. Policy,” U.S. Congressional Research Service, Updated 23 November 2020, p. 23.

[ii] Several media outlets reported that Saudi Arabia and China signed a stack of weapons sales agreements worth around $4 billion at the November 2022 Zhuhai Air Show in China, a few weeks before the Saudi-organized Arab-Chinese summit. The deal reportedly included TB001 UAVs, YJ-21 anti-ship missiles, carrier-based hypersonic missile systems, and an anti-drone laser system known as the “Silent Hunter.” A Chinese military analyst cited by the English-language South China Morning Post is bullish on the prospects of growing Saudi-Chinese arms trade.  He considers Saudi Arabia to be potentially interested in several Chinese land systems, including tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery—to include long-range rocket artillery.  See: “Why is Saudi Arabia looking to China to buy weapons after years of arms deals with the US?” South China Morning Post, 8 December 2022.;For more on the “Silent Hunter,” see: Lucas Winter, “Saudi Arabia Turns to China for Low-Altitude Air Defense,” OE Watch, Issue 4, 2022.

[iii] For background on Vision 2030’s impact on Saudi military industry and Saudi-Chinese defense industry relations, see: Lucas Winter “Saudi Arabia and the UAE Streamline Military Industry,” OE Watch, January 2020.; “Radars and UAVs: Saudi Arabia Taking Steps to Localize Military Industries,” OE Watch, November 2020. and UAVs%3A Saudi Arabia Taking Steps to Localize Military Industries; “Continued Growth and Development in Domestic High-Tech Military Industries of Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” OE Watch, March 2021.;  “Will Saudi Arabia’s Domestic UAV Program Slow Get Off the Ground?,” OE Watch, Issue 1, 2022; “UAV Technologies Proliferating in Yemen and Saudi Arabia,” OE Watch, Issue 7, 2022.; and “Saudi Arabia Continues Buying Missiles and UAVs From China as Part of Broader Foreign Policy Rebalancing,” OE Watch, Issue 11, 2022.

Image Information:

Image:  Flag of Saudi Arabia
Attribution: Public Domain

Saudi Arabia Continues Buying Missiles and UAVs From China as Part of Broader Foreign Policy Rebalancing

A Chinese DF-21A transporter erector vehicle on display at the "Our troops towards the sky" exhibition at the Beijing Military Museum.

A Chinese DF-21A transporter erector vehicle on display at the “Our troops towards the sky” exhibition at the Beijing Military Museum.

“Saudi foreign policy has adapted to international multipolarity…”

Saudi Arabia’s continued unwillingness to act against Russia in global energy markets should understood in the context of a broader Saudi foreign policy recalibration, formulated prior to the Ukraine conflict and in response to a perceived geostrategic transformation in which it views China playing a key role. Early in the Ukraine conflict, Saudi leadership countered U.S. pressure to undermine Russian interests in global energy markets with demands that the U.S. bolster security assistance for the kingdom. Looming behind these demands was the prospect of turning to China as a complementary, if not alternative, security partner. As detailed in the first excerpted article, a columnist in the influential Saudi daily al-Riyadh recently noted: “Saudi foreign policy has adapted to international multipolarity,” leading the kingdom to strengthen political, economic and military relations with several countries, including China. Chinese-Saudi military cooperation, which is likely to come under increased scrutiny in coming months, primarily involves weapons and technology transfers, most notably involving ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

At the core, Chinese-Saudi defense cooperation is rooted in missiles, and has been a relationship shrouded in secrecy from the start. Such cooperation began with a 1986 deal for around 50 medium-range DF-3 (Dongfeng 3) missiles, conducted surreptitiously and before the establishment of official bilateral relations in 1990.[i] In 2007, following a landmark visit to China by King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia purchased the upgraded DF-21 ballistic missile system; however, neither country publicly admitted to the deal, which was reported on several years later. Today, the secret China-Saudi missile development program appears to continue evolving, with recent media reports and analyses claiming that Saudi Arabia, with Chinese assistance, has begun producing missiles domestically.

In contrast to the clandestine missile program, Saudi-Chinese cooperation on UAVs and counter-UAV systems is mostly in the open. In the past decade, Saudi Arabia has purchased the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group’s Wing Loong II and the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’s Rainbow CH-4 UCAVs, employing them in the Yemen conflict and signing cooperation agreements for CH-4s to be coproduced in Saudi territory. Saudi military industry has also contracted with the China Electronics Technology Group to jointly develop drones and counter-drone systems.[ii]  Last February, during the first edition of the Saudi World Defense Show, the Saudi government signed a deal with China’s Poly Technologies to purchase an anti-UAV laser system called “Silent Hunter”[iii] amid Saudi accusations that the United States was an unreliable security partner. As a prominent journalist wrote at the time in the regionally influential Saudi daily al-Sharq al-Awsat: “When Houthi terrorism targets Saudi Arabia with ballistic missiles and Iranian drones, Washington rushes to Vienna to complete the nuclear agreement,” in reference to negotiations to revive the Iran nuclear deal. A few weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, the defense ministers of China and Saudi Arabia met virtually and, per the accompanying tweet by the Saudi Defense Minister, “explored ways to strengthen our military and defense cooperation.”  Similar discussions took place in June 2022, on the sidelines of the 2022 Shangri-La Asian Security Dialogue. There was much expectation that Chinese President Xi Jinping would visit Saudi Arabia last summer, but the visit never materialized. If such a visit takes place, defense and security cooperation will very likely be on the agenda.


المملكة وسياسة الرصانة.. تنويع التحالفات وتعزيز التوازن الدولي

Fahim al-Hamed. “The Kingdom and its Sober Policy… Diversifying Alliances and Strengthening International Balance,” al-Riyadh (influential Saudi daily), 15 October 2022.

The kingdom is governed by mutual strategic interests, but has always set limits to its flexibility and to being pressured. At this stage, the kingdom maintains its interests in light of a changing international system and major international conflicts, to ensure its leading role in the global scene. Saudi foreign policy has adapted to international multipolarity; thus, the kingdom has strengthened its political, economic and military relations with China, Russia and India, and has recently been restoring the relationship with Turkey.

حان وقت العقلانية السياسية

Tariq al-Hamid. “It is time for political rationality,” al-Sharq al-Awsat (regionally influential Saudi daily), 23 March 2022.

It is unreasonable for the price of oil to rise, so Britain and the United States rush to contact Saudi Arabia, and when Houthi terrorism targets Saudi Arabia with ballistic missiles and Iranian drones, Washington rushes to Vienna to complete the nuclear agreement…
Is there a serious stance from the US administration, which is now talking about “partnership” and “alliance” with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states? Where is the serious American position on the security of the Gulf, as the Americans demand the Saudis and the Gulf states now to reduce oil prices and support international stability?

@kbsalsaud (Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Minister of Defense), Twitter, 26 January 2022.

Upon the direction of HRH the Crown Prince, I met with the Minister of National Defense in the people’s republic of China General Wei Fenghe. We reviewed the historic ties between our two countries and explored ways to strengthen our military and defense cooperation.

@defensearabia (Defense Arabia, Arabic-language military news and analysis website), Twitter, 11 June 2022. Assistant Defense Minister meets Chinese Defense Minister in Singapore, to discuss defense and military cooperation relations.


[i] The DF-3 missiles were expensive and inaccurate, to the point of allegedly making them unusable during the first Gulf War. Yet, according to the memoirs of former deputy defense minister Khalid bin Sultan—the key Saudi official involved—the deal marked a turning point in Saudi military development and in its relations with China.

[ii] See: Lucas Winter, “UAV Technologies Proliferating in Yemen and Saudi Arabia,” OE Watch, Issue 7, 2022.

[iii] See: Lucas Winter, “Saudi Arabia Turns to China for Low-Altitude Air Defense,” OE Watch, Issue 4, 2022.

Image Information:

Image: A Chinese DF-21A transporter erector vehicle on display at the “Our troops towards the sky” exhibition at the Beijing Military Museum.
Source: Max Smith,
Attribution: Public Domain

UAV Technologies Proliferating in Yemen and Saudi Arabia

Wing Loong II side view, Dubai Air Show 2017.

Wing Loong II side view, Dubai Air Show 2017.

“…The plane belonged to the Saudi Air Force and was violating the armistice and carrying out hostile acts in the airspace of the capital, Sana’a…”

Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and counter-UAV technologies appear poised to continue proliferating and evolving in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.  The accompanying articles shed light on their use in this corner of the Arabian Peninsula.  In a span of four days in late May, Yemeni military sources claimed Houthi-led military forces in Yemen used “locally made” surface-to-air missiles to shoot down three UAVs belonging to the Saudi military.  The three UAVs were a Vestel Karayel [RG1] surveillance drone, a CAIG Wing Loong II [RG2] UCAV, and a CASC Rainbow CH-4 [RG3] UCAV.  The claims appear credible, although the only evidence presented were wreckage videos.  Yemeni forces did not specify how the drones were shot down beyond speaking vaguely of domestically manufactured systems.  Yemeni forces possess Russian/Soviet air-to-air missiles that they inherited from the Yemeni military stockpiles and modified to function as surface-to-air missiles.  They also operate Iranian air defense missiles smuggled into Yemen, most notably the “358” loitering air defense missile.  Saudi Arabia is seeking to produce UAVs and other advanced military equipment domestically and has signed co-production agreements with the makers of Turkish Karayels and Chinese CH-4s. 

Saudi Arabia has also recently entered into a joint venture with the China Electronics Technology Group to develop drones and counter-drone systems.  The latest incidents add to a growing list of over two dozen UAVs that Saudi Arabia has lost on the Yemeni battlefield, including over a dozen CH-4s and a handful of Karayels.  According to the accompanying excerpt from the Turkish daily Hurriyet, Saudi Arabia is thought to be in the process of purchasing Turkish Bayraktar TB-2 UAVs, perhaps in response to the underperformance of these other platforms.


@army21ye (Yemeni military spokesman Twitter account), 21 May 2022.

By God’s grace, this morning our air defenses were able to shoot down an armed spy plane, of the Turkish-made Karayel type, belonging to the Saudi Air Force. The plane was violating the armistice and carrying out hostile missions in the airspace of the Hiran region of Hajjah governorate. It was targeted by a homemade surface-to-air missile, which has not been made public yet.

Source: @army21ye (Yemeni military spokesman Twitter account), 23 May 2022.

Moments ago, our air defenses were able, thanks to God, to shoot down a Chinese-made armed CH4 spy plane using a locally made surface-to-air missile. The plane belonged to the Saudi Air Force and was violating the armistice and carrying out hostile acts in the airspace of the capital, Sana’a.

Source:  @army21ye (Yemeni military spokesman Twitter account), 24 May 2022,

The armed spy plane shot down by our air defenses at dawn today on the border front was a Chinese-made Wing Loong 2. It was targeted while violating the armistice and carrying out hostile actions in the skies of the Kitaf Directorate, along the border.

Source:  “Saudi Arabia to buy Bayraktar drones: Report,” Hurriyet (Turkish daily), 23 May 2022.

“The Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) has expressed interest in Turkish drones and is ready for talks with the producing company, Baykar,” Lebanon-based Tactical Report wrote on May 22.

Image Information:

Image:  Wing Loong II side view, Dubai Air Show 2017.
Source: Photo by Mztourist via Wikimedia Commons,
Attribution: CC 4.0 (

Saudi Arabia Turns to China for Low-Altitude Air Defense

Автономный боевой модуль 9А331МК-1 ЗРК 9К331МКМ Тор-М2КМ (9A331MK-1 Tor-M2KM).

Автономный боевой модуль 9А331МК-1 ЗРК 9К331МКМ Тор-М2КМ (9A331MK-1 Tor-M2KM).

“…With its technological development, China has been able to surpass Russia, which has unsuccessfully tried to market its equipment to Saudi Arabia since 2007…”

Chinese weapons manufacturers were among the key winners at the World Defense Show 2022 (WDS 2022), Saudi Arabia’s new and much-vaunted annual international weapons fair.  The Saudi government meant for the show to serve as a catalyst for its Vision 2030 development plan, which aims to localize half of all defense spending by 2030.  Riyadh also meant for the show to help fulfill Saudi Arabia’s immediate military needs, which are currently dictated by the war in Yemen and are primarily focused on low-altitude air defense.  In that regard, the Saudi Arabian government inked a deal with China’s Poly Technologies to procure a laser air defense system, known as the “Silent Hunter.”  As described in the accompanying excerpt from the Arabic-language military news site and chat forum, the system uses lasers to target low-altitude UAVs of the type used by the Houthi-controlled military in Yemen.  The report notes that China has now succeeded in penetrating the Saudi air defense market, something that Russian companies have unsuccessfully tried to do since 2007.  Russian air defense offerings at WDS 2022 included the Tor-M2KM, a self-contained module version of the Tor short-range air defense platform.  In a further sign that Chinese companies are making inroads where their Russian counterparts have failed, the other accompanying excerpt from highlights Saudi interest in obtaining the Chinese HQ-17AE system, which is based on the Russian Tor platform.


“السعودية توقع عقد استحواذ على منظومات دفاع جوي صينية

 (Saudi Arabia signs contract to acquire Chinese air defense systems),” (Arabic-language military news site and chat forum), 10 March 2022.

The Saudi version of the Silent Hunter system is different from other versions offered by Poly Technologies. The kingdom has been using Chinese weapons for a long time, so the purchase itself is not novel. What is novel is to include them in one of the Kingdom’s most sensitive sectors, which is air defense. With its technological development, China has been able to surpass Russia, which has unsuccessfully tried to market its equipment to Saudi Arabia since 2007. Silent Hunter is an anti-drone laser weapon developed in China by Poly Technologies. It is an improved version of the 30 kW low-altitude defensive laser system, and is available in both fixed and mobile versions.


“السعودية تسعى للحصول على منظومة الدفاع الجوي HQ-17AE الصينية الصنع

(Saudi Arabia seeks to obtain Chinese HQ-17AE air defense system),” (Arabic-language military news site and chat forum), 16 January 2022.

After acquiring the Chinese 3D TWA radar system, the Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces are seeking to acquire HQ-17AE air defense systems, according to press sources. China had announced that the HQ-17AE air defense missile system, dubbed the “Low-Altitude Aircraft Hunter,” is available for export.

Image Information:

Image:  Автономный боевой модуль 9А331МК-1 ЗРК 9К331МКМ Тор-М2КМ (9A331MK-1 Tor-M2KM).
Source: Vitaly Kuzmin,
Attribution: CC 4.0