Saudi Arabia, world’s top arms importer, launches own military industry

Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s top arms importers, says it has launched a program to license firms seeking to participate in its own military industrial sector.

The General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI) announced on Sunday the start of receiving license applications for firms to manufacture firearms, ammunition, military explosives, military equipment, individual military equipment, and military electronics in the kingdom.

GAMI Governor Ahmed al-Ohali described the move as a significant step towards attracting domestic and foreign investment to the sector, state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has drawn criticism for following confrontational policies in the region, has already said he wants the kingdom to produce or assemble half of its military equipment locally.

In March 2015 – only two months after being appointed as defense minister, the young prince authorized the ongoing Saudi-led war against Yemen. Riyadh and its allies — including the United Arab Emirates — have sparked outrage by leading a war that has killed thousands of Yemeni civilians.

Riyadh invaded Yemen in a bid to reinstall the former Saudi-allied regime and eliminate the Houthi Ansarullah movement, but it has failed to reach any of those objectives.

In January 2016, Riyadh severed diplomatic relations with Tehran over angry protests in Iran following the execution of a Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported earlier this year that Saudi Arabia became the world’s top arms importer after its arms imports in 2014-2018 increased by 192 percent, compared to the preceding five years.

The United States is on the top of the list of weapons suppliers to the kingdom.

In 2017, US President Donald Trump concluded an arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth almost $110 billion, and extending up to $350 billion over 10 years.

For decades, Saudi Arabia has been drawing on its abundant oil resources to underwrite its stupendous military bills, but the war in Yemen and elsewhere is eating away at the kingdom’s cash reserves.

On Sunday, King Salman replaced the country’s energy minister, Khalid al-Falih, with one of his sons, appointing Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman to the important position.

Analysts say the move could spark concerns about the balance of power in the kingdom and lead to more politicized policy-making in the oil sector.

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