In fact, the potential external hazards threatening the Kingdom are at their highest today, because of two factors: The increase in the Iranian threat and the decrease in the US support.
The Iranian threat has become more serious now on all Saudi borders, exacerbated in the north through Syria and Iraq and in the south through Yemen. These threats would have overwhelmed the region if the Muslim Brotherhood, under Mohammed Morsi, still had Egypt under their control.
The second factor is the decrease in US cover and protection. Barack Obama clearly stated during his presidency that the old Saudi-American bilateral understanding that the security of Saudi Arabia was linked to US security no longer served US national interests.
Thus, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was stuck with one option: To strengthen its defense capabilities.
For Western governments, arm deals are always bound to political conditions. For instance, the Obama administration has stopped providing Saudi Arabia with ammunition in the past and deprived it of intelligence cooperation, in a disagreement over the war in Yemen. It is therefore not surprising to see American institutions and Congress members oppose the Saudi-Russian deal. A lot of big important deals face opposition. Many groups are opposed to Riyadh, some accuse it of military operations against civilians while others work systematically in favor of forces opposed to Saudi Arabia. Despite all of the above, the American President is the sole decision-taker – serving, of course, American interests.
King Salman’s visit, first to Russia by a Saudi monarch, is important in the framework of Saudi efforts to rebalance the oil market and keep Moscow politically neutral and away from Iran. This visit has also expanded the Kingdom’s military options. However, the military deal with Russia does not aim to replace the American arms supply nor affect Saudi-American ties, as some interpreted it. As I explained in the beginning, the deal aims to strengthen the Kingdom and empower it to defend and protect itself amid growing threats from all around.
By buying arms from Russia and China, Saudi Arabia will be released from American pressure and will have other options in case America decides to stop providing ammunition or prevent Saudi Arabia from using American-made arms in its next war.
The Saudi-Russian arms deal is a strategic necessity, but security also relies on science, industry and discipline.
When Saudi Arabia receives its arsenal soon, it will have two missile defense systems: The American THAAD and the Russian S-400, ready to protect the Kingdom from any Iranian or other attack. By having several options, the Kingdom will never again go through what it endured two years ago in Yemen.
Gulf countries, envied by neighboring countries for their abundant and rich resources, can only improve their defense mechanisms by buying more arms and developing their scientific and industrial systems as well. Truth be told, this is what Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is doing for Saudi Arabia: Refining its military power, away from media.
The fate of Gulf countries is to live in a tormented region full of wars and chaos. This is the reason that pushed Saudi Arabia to think that being better on the military level does not only depend on arm deals, but is an integral system that involves science, industry and discipline. This is also what Israel, one of the world’s largest arms importers, believes in.
The biggest success is keeping the armaments from becoming a heavy burden or a reason for bankruptcy and recession. It should be beneficial to achieve development, growth and peace.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article is also published. Twitter: @aalrashed