While Iran’s rhetoric relating to its military capabilities has grown ever-more verbose in the face of Western pressure over its nuclear development programme, Saudi Arabia has quietly gone about accruing the Middle East’s most sophisticated military arsenal.

A new congressional report published this week in the US revealed Saudi Arabia’s spending on advanced American weaponry topped $33bn in 2011, making it the world’s leading importer of US armaments.

By comparison, the second-ranked nation, in terms of spending on US-made weapons, was India, with a comparatively paltry $6.9bn, while Saudi Arabia’s Gulf neighbour, the UAE, spent $3.49bn.

The report, which describes Saudi Arabia’s level of military spending in 2011 as “extraordinary”, also details the country’s investment in US arms over the past decade. Given Iran’s posturing in recent years and the Gulf’s increasing reliance on US military and diplomatic support, it makes for interesting reading.

In 2004-07, Saudi Arabia’s total investment in foreign military hardware amounted to just $23.6bn, of which $5bn was spent on US arms.

By contrast, in 2008-11, the country’s spending on foreign weaponry topped $52bn, with the US accounting for $45.6bn-worth of sales.

The focus on offensive weaponry – 84 Boeing F-15 fighter jets purchased in 2011 alone – should act as a warning to Iran that Saudi Arabia is prepared to take the fight to its shores or at the very least, the skies above the Gulf, if military confrontation proves unavoidable.

Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented military and economic ties with the US should also guarantee the kingdom’s protection in any ensuing war in the Gulf.