The Saudis have big missiles, and they want Iran to know it. During an enormous military parade yesterday, the Kingdom put on display their arsenal of giant Chinese-made DF-3 missiles. Though they’ve had the weapons for more than two decades, this was their first public appearance. Among the guests bearing witness to the missiles’ debut was none other than the Pakistani army chief, General Raheel Sharif. What’s the connection? Washington Institute analyst Simon Henderson explains:
Amid the Persian Gulf’s prevailing diplomatic atmosphere — dominated by concern that ongoing international negotiations will leave Iran as a threshold nuclear weapon state — the missile display signals Saudi Arabia’s determination to counter Tehran’s growing strength, as well as its readiness to act independently of the United States. In particular, the presence of Pakistan’s top military commander will reawaken speculation that Riyadh may seek to acquire nuclear warheads from Islamabad to match Iran’s potential.
U.S.-Saudi ties have taken a hard hit in recent years. Obama’s fecklessness in Syria and weak hand in the Iranian nuclear negotiations have had the Kingdom seriously doubting Washington’s regional commitment. More and more, we are seeing Riyadh behave more aggressively throughout the region as it seeks to undermine Tehran’s reach in the Middle East. Pakistan in particular has become a major beneficiary of Saudi largesse, as Riyadh injected $1.5 billion into its foundering economy. One can’t underplay the attraction of Islamabad’s nuclear capabilities to the Saudi regime. And Pakistan, a supposedly neutral party in the Iran-Saudi rivalry, is going along with the courtship.Unless Obama can convince the Saudis that Washington’s interests in the Middle East indeed do align with theirs, the desert nation will likely continue in its increasingly aggressive power politics.