Landmark defense deals are evidence of warmer Saudi-Turkish relations, experts say

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shake hands during a welcome ceremony in Jeddah. (AP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shake hands during a welcome ceremony in Jeddah. (AP)
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Updated 21 July 2023
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Landmark defense deals are evidence of warmer Saudi-Turkish relations, experts say

Landmark defense deals are evidence of warmer Saudi-Turkish relations, experts say
  • They include a pivotal defense-cooperation pact and an agreement with Turkish defense equipment manufacturer Baykar for the supply of drones
  • Analysts predict further agreements and collaborations in military technologies such as drones and other high-tech, AI-driven systems are likely

ANKARA: Ties between Ankara and Riyadh are improving as the bilateral relationship continues to warm following the signing of a significant defense export deal, analysts say.

During his official tour of the Gulf this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a number of agreements with Saudi Arabia late on Monday, which many experts viewed as sending a signal about the future of defense cooperation between the two countries.

They included a pivotal defense-cooperation deal, and an agreement between the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Turkish defense equipment manufacturer Baykar for the supply of drones.

Saudi Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman emphasized the important nature of these agreements, stating that they aim to enhance the readiness of the Kingdom’s armed forces and bolster the country’s defense and manufacturing capabilities.

Haluk Bayraktar, the CEO of Baykar, said the agreement was largest defense and aviation export contract signed by a Turkish company to date. His brother Selcuk Bayraktar is the chairman of the board at the company and its chief technology officer, and is Erdogan’s son-in-law.

Baykar is renowned for its Bayraktar TB2 drones, unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with laser-guided missiles that cost about the same as American and Israeli drones. As part of the deal, Turkiye will also export an undisclosed number of Bayraktar Akinci medium-altitude, long-endurance armed drones for use by Saudi air and naval forces.

The agreement also includes technology transfers and joint-production projects to help enhance the advancement of high-tech development capacities in both countries. Another deal is expected to be signed for the purchase of Turkish smart munitions and other payloads, with plans for them to be produced locally in the Kingdom.

“This significant development is surely the start of a new era in Turkish-Saudi relations,” Sine Ozkarasahin, a defense analyst at the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (also known as EDAM), an independent think tank in Istanbul, told Arab News.

She believes that in future we can expect “more collaboration between Ankara and Riyadh in the defense industry, in segments such as air defense and missiles, but more prominently in smart weapons, such as autonomous and uncrewed systems and other (artificial intelligence-driven) technologies.”

She added: “Both countries are very invested in (research and development) in the military sector. As illustrated in their Vision 2030 document, the Saudis are currently one of the pioneering countries leading the AI breakthrough in the Middle East.

“Deals like this also demonstrate that they see the potential in Turkiye’s rapidly expanding defense-technological industrial base.”

In the past four years, Turkiye has been offering domestically developed and produced drones, particularly those manufactured by Baykar, for sale to friendly countries with which Ankara seeks to strengthen ties.

Armed Turkish drones, including the Bayraktar TB2, have proven effective in a number of conflict zones, including Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.

The TB2 in particular has earned a deserved reputation as a highly capable and cost-effective platform, in the process playing a pivotal role in advancing and fueling the growth of the Turkish defense aeronautics industry.

Ukrainian forces used the flagship Turkish drone for strategic communication in the early stages of the conflict with Russia, and they were credited with helping to halt the Russian advance.

Between 2019 and 2023, Turkiye has signed agreements for the co-production of unmanned aerial vehicles with several countries, including Kazakhstan, Ukraine and now Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom is the seventh nation to purchase Akinci drones from Baykar, and as the list of export clients grows, the latest agreement means that Turkiye has successfully expanded its drone sales to cover all of the wealthy Gulf monarchies. The deal with Riyadh also serves as a significant signal that relations between the two countries are improving.

Meanwhile, Baykar is developing an unmanned fighter jet, a project that highlights Turkiye’s continuing commitment to advancing its capabilities in the unmanned aviation sector.

Leo Peria-Peigne, a research fellow at the Security Studies Center of the French Institute of International Relations in Paris, said that after several years of chilly relations, ties between Riyadh and Ankara are warming, and Turkish authorities are actively seeking to use armaments agreements as part of this process, not only in dealings with the Kingdom but other countries such as the UAE and Egypt.

“Right after the end of the Kingdom’s blockade on Qatar, rumors emerged about a potential armaments contract between (Riyadh and Ankara), especially on UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), rumors that were used as a proof of an improvement in relations,” he told Arab News.

“Also, an armaments contract is also some kind of guarantee that both countries will keep good relations for a while, as most of the profit on these deals is made in training and maintenance services.”

As the Turkish economy struggles with hyperinflation, its defense industry provides an effective way to attract an influx of foreign currencies, Peria-Peigne said.

“Armament contracts are also used by Ankara to enhance its diplomatic attractivness and support its ‘seduction efforts,’ especially toward African and Central Asian countries,” he added.

Meanwhile, Peria-Peigne said, the knock-on industrial benefits to Saudi Arabia expected from such agreements will help the Kingdom diversify its economy in line with the aims of its Vision 2030 agenda, which calls for half of the nation’s military equipment to be manufactured locally by the end of the decade.


The US pier in Gaza is facing its latest challenge — whether the UN will keep delivering the aid

The US pier in Gaza is facing its latest challenge — whether the UN will keep delivering the aid
Updated 14 June 2024
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The US pier in Gaza is facing its latest challenge — whether the UN will keep delivering the aid

The US pier in Gaza is facing its latest challenge — whether the UN will keep delivering the aid
  • US and Israel say no part of the pier was used in the raid but an Israeli helicopter used a spot near the pier.
  • UN has paused its work with the pier since June 8

WASHINGTON: The US-built pier to bring food to Gaza is facing one of its most serious challenges yet — its humanitarian partner is deciding if it’s safe to keep delivering supplies arriving by sea to starving Palestinians.
The United Nations, the player with the widest reach delivering aid within Gaza, has paused its work with the pier after a June 8 operation by Israeli security forces that rescued four Israeli hostages and killed more than 270 Palestinians.
Rushing out a mortally wounded Israeli commando after the raid, Israeli rescuers opted against returning the way they came, across a land border, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, told reporters. Instead, they sped toward the beach and the site of the US aid hub on Gaza’s coast, he said. An Israeli helicopter touched down near the US-built pier and helped whisk away hostages, according to the US and Israeli militaries.
For the UN and independent humanitarian groups, the event made real one of their main doubts about the US sea route: Whether aid workers could cooperate with the US military-backed, Israeli military-secured project without violating core humanitarian principles of neutrality and independence and without risking aid workers becoming seen as US and Israeli allies — and in turn, targets in their own right.
Israel and the US deny that any aspect of the month-old US pier was used in the Israeli raid.
The UN World Food Program, which works with the US to transfer aid from the $230 million pier to warehouses and local aid teams for distribution within Gaza, suspended cooperation as it conducts a security review. Aid has been piling up on the beach since.
“You can be damn sure we are going to be very careful about what we assess and what we conclude,” UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said.
Griffiths told reporters at an aid conference in Jordan this week that determining whether the Israeli raid improperly used either the beach or roads around the pier “would put at risk any future humanitarian engagement in that operation.”
The UN has to look at the facts as well as what the Palestinian public and militants believe about any US, pier or aid worker involvement in the raid, spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York.
“Humanitarian aid must not be used and must not be perceived as taking any side in a conflict,” Haq said. “The safety of our humanitarian workers depends on all sides and the communities on the ground trusting their impartiality.”
Rumors have swirled on social media, deepening the danger to aid workers, humanitarian groups say.
“Whether or not we’ve seen the pier used for military purposes is almost irrelevant. Because the perception of people in Gaza, civilians and armed groups, is that humanitarian aid has been instrumentalized” by parties in the conflict, said Suze van Meegen, head of operations in Gaza for the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Oxfam International and some other aid organizations said they are waiting for answers from the US government because it’s responsible for the agreements with the UN and other humanitarian groups on how the pier and aid deliveries would function.
Questions include whether the Israeli helicopters and security forces used what the US had promised aid groups would be a no-go area for the Israeli military around the pier, said Scott Paul, an associate director at Oxfam.
The suspension of deliveries is only one of the problems that have hindered the pier, which President Joe Biden announced in March as an additional way to get aid to Palestinians. The US has said the project was never a solution and have urged Israel to lift restrictions on aid shipments through land crossings as famine looms.
The first aid from the sea route rolled onto shore May 17, and work has been up and down since:
— May 18: Crowds overwhelmed aid trucks coming from the pier, stripping some of the trucks of their cargo. The WFP suspended deliveries from the pier for at least two days while it worked out alternate routes with the US and Israel.
— May 24: A bit more than 1,000 metric tons of aid had been delivered to Gaza from the pier, and the US Agency for International Development later said all of it was distributed within Gaza.
— May 25: High winds and heavy seas damaged the pier and four US Army vessels ran aground, injuring three service members, one critically. Crews towed away part of the floating dock in what became a two-week pause in operations.
— June 8: The US military announced that deliveries resumed off the repaired and reinstalled project. The Israeli military operation unfolded the same day.
— Sunday: World Food Program chief Cindy McCain announced a “pause” in cooperation with the US pier, citing the previous day’s “incident” and the rocketing of two WFP warehouses that injured a staffer.
“The WFP, of course, is taking the security measures that they need to do, and the reviews that they need to do, in order to feel safe and secure and to operate within Gaza,” Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said this week.
The pier has brought to Gaza more than 2,500 metric tons (about 5.6 million pounds) of aid, Singh said. About 1,000 metric tons of that was brought by ship Tuesday and Wednesday — after the WFP pause — and is being stored on the beach awaiting distribution.
Now, the question is whether the UN will rejoin the effort.
For aid workers who generally work without weapons or armed guards, and for those they serve, “the best guarantee of our security is the acceptance of communities” that aid workers are neutral, said Paul, the Oxfam official.
Palestinians already harbored deep doubts about the pier given the lead role of the US, which sends weapons and other support to its ally Israel, said Yousef Munayyer, a senior fellow at Washington’s Arab Center, an independent organization researching Israeli-Arab issues.
Distrustful Palestinians suffering in the Israel-Hamas war are being asked to take America at its word, and that’s a hard sell, said Munayyer, an American of Palestinian heritage.
“So you know, perception matters a lot,” he said. “And for the people who are literally putting their lives on the line to get humanitarian aid moving around a war zone, perception gets you in danger.”


US says it will raise pressure on Iran if it does not cooperate with UN watchdog

US says it will raise pressure on Iran if it does not cooperate with UN watchdog
Updated 14 June 2024
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US says it will raise pressure on Iran if it does not cooperate with UN watchdog

US says it will raise pressure on Iran if it does not cooperate with UN watchdog

WASHINGTON: The US State Department said on Thursday that Washington and its allies were prepared to continue to increase pressure on Iran if Tehran does not cooperate with the UN nuclear watchdog.

Iran has rapidly installed extra uranium-enriching centrifuges at its Fordow site and begun setting up others, a UN nuclear watchdog report said earlier in the day. The State Department said the report showed that Iran aimed to continue expanding its nuclear program “in ways that have no credible peaceful purpose.”


Houthi missile attack severely injures sailor on cargo ship: US military

Houthi missile attack severely injures sailor on cargo ship: US military
Updated 14 June 2024
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Houthi missile attack severely injures sailor on cargo ship: US military

Houthi missile attack severely injures sailor on cargo ship: US military
  • Although attacks have caused major disruption to international shipping, casualties have been rare.

DUBAI: Two cruise missiles launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels struck a bulk cargo carrier in the Gulf of Aden on Thursday, severely injuring a sailor who was evacuated by American forces, the US military said.

The Houthis have been targeting vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November 2023 in attacks they say are in solidarity with Palestinians during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.

Although this has caused major disruption to international shipping, casualties have been rare.

The M/V Verbena — a Palauan-flagged, Ukrainian-owned, Polish-operated ship — “reported damage and subsequent fires on board. The crew continues to fight the fire. One civilian mariner was severely injured during the attack,” the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement.

“Aircraft from USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) medically evacuated the injured mariner to a partner force ship nearby for medical attention,” CENTCOM said.

“This continued reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.”

The Houthis on Thursday said they had carried out attacks on three ships within the past 24 hours, including on the Verbena, “in retaliation to the crimes committed against our people in the Gaza Strip, and in response to the American-British aggression against our country.”

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) meanwhile reported an explosion close to a merchant vessel in the Red Sea about 80 nautical miles northwest of Yemen’s Hodeida port, with no damage or casualties.

The Houthis have launched scores of drone and missile attacks on shipping vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November.

The first reported fatalities from the attacks on ships occurred in the Gulf of Aden in March.

On Wednesday, the Houthis struck the Tutor, a Liberian-flagged bulk carrier, southwest of Hodeida. They claimed to have used seaborne and aerial drones, and ballistic missiles.

CENTCOM later said the Tutor had been struck by a Houthi “unmanned surface vessel” that “caused severe flooding and damage to the engine room.”


UN Security Council demands halt to siege of Sudan city of 1.8 mln people

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir by the paramilitary RSF.
The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir by the paramilitary RSF.
Updated 13 June 2024
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UN Security Council demands halt to siege of Sudan city of 1.8 mln people

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir by the paramilitary RSF.
  • Council adopted British-drafted resolution that also calls for the withdrawal of all fighters that threaten the safety and security of civilians in Al-Fashir

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir — a city of 1.8 million people in Sudan’s North Dafur region — by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and an immediate end to fighting in the area.
The 15-member council adopted a British-drafted resolution that also calls for the withdrawal of all fighters that threaten the safety and security of civilians in Al-Fashir, the last big city in the vast, western Darfur region not under RSF control.
War erupted in Sudan in April last year between the Sudanese army (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), creating the world’s largest displacement crisis. Top UN officials have warned that the worsening violence around Al-Fashir threatens to “unleash bloody intercommunal strife throughout Darfur.”


Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid

Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid
Updated 13 June 2024
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Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid

Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid
  • The West Bank has seen a surge in violence since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza
  • Troops surrounded a building where two gunmen were holed up, exchanging fire with them, the army said

QABATIYA, West Bank: Israeli forces raided a town in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, killing three Palestinians and detaining several others in what the army described as an operation to pre-empt militant attacks.
The West Bank, among territories where Palestinians seek statehood, has seen a surge in violence since the outbreak of the war between Israel and the militant Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
During the raid in Qabatiya, troops surrounded a building where two gunmen were holed up, exchanging fire with them, the army said. The two Palestinians were killed and witnesses saw the body of one them being lifted out by an armored bulldozer.
A third Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops elsewhere in the town, medical officials said.
There was no immediate claim of the dead men by any armed Palestinian faction. The army described the two killed in the building as “senior terrorists” without elaborating, and added that weapons were seized in the raid.
Several Palestinians were detained by troops, who also “exposed explosives planted into roads which were intended to be used to attack the forces,” the army statement said.
A soldier was wounded during exchanges of fire, it added.