Rising military spending among the Gulf states is nothing new. Many of the deals have been in progress for some years and for most of the six GCC states, bolstering their defence industry is part of their 2030 economic development goals.
However, the region’s political landscape has changed dramatically since the Arab uprisings. Tehran is also committed to its nuclear programme and its long-time ally Damascus is on the brink of collapse.
Reports now suggest Israel could attack Iran’s nuclear facilities this autumn, meaning new fault lines are being opened in an already volatile region. The only topic now being pushed into the spotlight more than defence is nuclear weapons. Riyadh has pledged to pursue nuclear weapons if Tehran atomic programme ends in the development of a bomb. The UK’s Foreign Secretary William Hague’s assertion that a nuclear Iran would create a Middle East Cold War scenario is a significant concern.
It is by no means certain that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Tehran has firmly maintained that its nuclear programme is only for peaceful civilian purposes.
But the fact that the UN energy watchdog, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was barred from visiting a key nuclear site on 22 February will not help Tehran’s case.
If Iran does acquire nuclear weapons, it is likely that it will not just be Saudi Arabia that will follow suit. Egypt and Turkey would certainly be among those most concerned by Iran getting an atomic bomb.
The UAE is already developing a civilian nuclear programme and is currently the only country with a signed contract. Jordan and Bahrain are both planning civilian nuclear programmes.
As Iran keeps driving forward the nuclear agenda, defence across the region will continue to be a pressing concern.