2014-05-01 by India Strategic
Saudi Arabia held its biggest ever-military exercise over two weeks this April in three theaters across the country reportedly involving some 100,000 personnel from its army, navy and air force.
Details were sketchy as usual from the rather secretive kingdom but officially published reports said that the exercise, codenamed Saif Abdullah (or sword of Abdullah in Arabic), was meant to test the capability of the Saudi Arabian forces in both offensive and defensive roles.
On its concluding day on April 29, rulers, royalty and top military commanders from the neighboring gulf states attended the final parts of the show as well as the ceremonial retreat at Hafr al Batin in the country’s north-east.
Militarily, Saudi Arabia is among the best-equipped countries in the world, building, maintaining and continuously upgrading a leading edge in the region, mostly with US, British, German, French and Italian weapons.
According to western sources, the exercise involved Boeing-supplied F 15 Eagle and AWACS aircraft as well as Apache helicopters, British Aerospace’s Tornado aircraft, Raytheon’s missile and air defense systems and a host of formidable equipment.
Saudi Arabia holds the exercise every year actually, but the dimension and scale of deployment this time was unparalleled, as the kingdom officially let it be known albeit without divulging details.
Saudi Arabia began its military buildup right from the 1970s but accelerated it in the 1980s following the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, which also threatened to export it to destabilize its Arab Gulf neighbors.
In May 1981, Saudi Arabia, and its five neighbours, UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait also formed the regional economic and security grouping of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) which declared that an attack on any of them would be considered as an attack on all of them and tackled jointly.
In fact, all the Gulf countries, particularly UAE and Saudi Arabia, have wisely used their military acquisition programs to leverage investments as offsets to build their domestic industry from scratch. In this perspective, UAE has particularly made impressive strides in oil, aerospace and defense technologies.
The GCC grouping has meanwhile held strong, except that in March this year, UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar alleging latter’s interference in their internal affairs. Issues include Qatar’s support to Egyptian dissidents and rather ‘loud’ news reports by Doha-based Al Jazeera Arabic and English TV channel. Qatar has not reciprocated in this regard but its envoys in the three countries are not obliged with official diplomatic opportunities.
Understandably, the ruling family or military officials from Qatar, which shares border with Saudi Arabia, were not invited.
According to UAE’s state-run Emirates News Agency WAM, those at the ceremony included:
- UAE’s General Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces,
- Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,
- King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, Sheikh Khalid Al-Jarrah Al-Sabah, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister of Kuwait,
- Field Marshal Shaikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Commander-in-Chief of the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF),
- and Mohammed bin Nasser Al-Rasebi, Secretary General of the Ministry of Defence of Oman.
Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif also attended, and according to Pakistani media, he took the opportunity to offer JF-17 thunder aircraft that Pakistan produces jointly with China.
Hafr al Batin is located near Saudi Arabia’s borders with Kuwait and Iraq at the head of the strategic Gulf waterway in east. The area hosts the King Khalid Military City.
But according to reports in the Saudi media, the exercise was held both on the country’s eastern Gulf Coast and the western Red Sea coast. Saudi Arabia has some tension with Yemen, and a chunk of the exercise deployment was on that border in south-west.
WAM said that the exercise was “staged in three theaters of operations to strengthen Saudi armed forces’ combat capability” in both offensive ad defensive roles while another report said that Electronic Warfare (EW) units were also used extensively.
In the US-allied war against Iraq in Feb 1991, in Operation desert Strom, US forces created deception cells at Hafr Al Batin and generated false but intense VHF traffic to mislead the Iraqis to believe that the main attack units were based there.
Movement of bogus military convoys, bunkers and dust were created while the main armour and infantry units attacked Iraqi forces in Kuwait from another route to penetrate the Iraqi defenses. Arial and naval bombing from the Gulf waterway pulverized Iraqi forces in their own country.
The significance of Hafr al Batin lay in the fact that as a convergence point between the three countries, it was a natural route to both Kuwait and Iraq. The area is some 90 km from Kuwait and 70 km from Iraq. The Gulf waterway is nearby.
This article was republished with the permission of our partner India Strategic.