Diplomacy

Solid as a Rock

Regional Security

With the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) on its northern doorstep in Iraq and a Shiite-Sunni proxy war playing out along Saudi Arabia’s 1,800km southern border in Yemen, […]

With the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) on its northern doorstep in Iraq and a Shiite-Sunni proxy war playing out along Saudi Arabia’s 1,800km southern border in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has increased its efforts to bolster its own borders, as well as taking a more active role in promoting regional security.

The Kingdom made headlines in January 2015 for constructing a 965-km wall along its northern border with Iraq to protect itself from the spread of IS and the group’s destabilizing presence. The idea behind the wall dates back almost decade, when the sectarian civil war in Iraq was at its height; however, construction only began in the Fall of 2014. Completed parts of the wall already feature five layers of fences and ditches, watchtowers, and some of the latest technologies in cameras, radars, and other detection devices. An additional 30,000 troops were also sent to the border region.

January also marked the first head-on attack from IS on Saudi Arabia’s border. According to a statement from the Interior Ministry, four gunmen carried out a suicide attack on a border post, killing two Saudi border guards as well as General Oudah al-Belawi, the commander of border operations in the Kingdom’s northern zone. All four IS militants were also killed in the attack, which is speculated to be a response to Saudi Arabia’s participation in US-led coalition airstrikes against IS.

In February 2015, Riyadh hosted the 26 Chiefs of Staff of the anti-IS coalition to further discuss the latest developments and regional security concerns. Also present was US General Lloyd J. Austin, who is currently leading the coalition against IS. The Chiefs of Staff were met by HRH Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Minister of Defence and the son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. This conference was the fifth in a series of coalition gatherings, following similar events in Jordan, France, Germany, and the US. The topics of this conference focused on the importance of improving coordination in fighting the region’s terror groups, as well as demonstrating their willingness to assist and strengthen the Iraqi army in its fight against IS.
Speaking in Cairo at the Regional Security Conference later in February, Prince Turki Bin Mohammed bin Saud Al-Kabeer, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reiterated the government’s position regarding the necessity of regional and international cooperation in defeating the security threats posed by IS and other such groups.

In March, the usually cautious Saudi Arabia formed a coalition of other Arab allies and took an assertive step toward rectifying their security concerns in Yemen by launching Operation Decisive Storm, an air campaign against the Shia Houthi rebels to restore recently deposed Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. This is partly in response to spill-over effects from a long-running on-off civil war in northern Yemen, with Houthi rebels possibly baiting the Kingdom with mortar attacks and small ground incursions across the border.
The Kingdom’s rhetoric is clearly being matched by its fiscal policies. Already the fourth-largest defense spender in the world, Saudi Arabia increased its defense budget by 20% in 2014 from 2013. In 2015, Saudi Arabia also became the world’s largest importer of defense equipment. According to IHS, the Kingdom is set to spend $9.8 billion, or a whopping 42% more than in 2014.