11/09/2022, 10.45
MIDDLE EAST
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Sipri reports growing arms production in the Middle East

The Swedish research body records a radical reversal in the balance of global powers, especially the US and Russia. Conventional, small arms and light weapons are growing. In addition to Israel, Turkey, Iran and to a lesser extent Jordan and Egypt are gaining ground. 

 

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - In terms of arms, the Middle East region (and North Africa, Mena) is experiencing a turnaround that, according to some, can be equated to a "radical change". From being an importing area, it is increasingly asserting itself as a producer, and the data contained in the latest Sipri (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) report published at the beginning of November is further confirmation. Dependence on global powers is increasingly a relic of the past, while local industry is flourishing, also favoured by a reshuffling of regional (and global) alliances. 

The Sipri study, linked to the Arms Transfers Database, shows how the Mena nations are developing - or seeking to develop - a "limited production of conventional and Salw (small arms and light weapons)". Among the examples, the report mentions armoured vehicles in Algeria and Egypt and anti-tank rockets in Jordan. The development marks a radical change for a region that has historically relied on external powers such as Russia and the United States (and in recent years China) for military acquisitions and supplies.

While Israel has maintained its place as the main arms exporter in the Middle East, countries such as Turkey and Iran have positioned themselves among the key producers. Ankara was already the 12th largest arms supplier globally before the war in Ukraine, but in recent months has made further progress by supplying Bayraktar TB-2 drones to Kiev. On the other side of the conflict, Tehran has guaranteed Moscow (cheap and available) drones such as the Shahed-136.

The ongoing changes in the arms market come at a time when the traditional superpowers themselves are repositioning themselves and assessing their ability - and willingness - to sell arms abroad. According to the Middle East Eye (Mee), the Russian defence industry is severely affected by Western sanctions and tight export controls, leaving traditional customers in the lurch. In the US, both Democrats and Republicans, albeit for different reasons ranging from the economic/energy element to the issue of human rights, have called for a (partial) halt to sales to historical partners such as Mohammed bin Salman's Saudi Arabia (Mbs) or President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's Egypt.

The Middle Eastern nations are therefore working to support domestic production and strengthen the arms industry in their respective countries. Last March, the CEO of Saudi Military Industries (Sami) announced that the Wahhabi kingdom plans to produce a domestically manufactured drone and open one of the largest munitions factories in the world, knocking on the doors of China for technological assistance.

Even Jordan, a relatively small military player compared to its neighbours, is emerging as an arms exporter. According to Sipri, the country of 10 million was the world's 25th largest arms supplier between 2017-2021, although this is mainly due to the export of second-hand equipment such as combat helicopters and armoured personnel carriers. The UAE and Turkey have been on opposite sides of the conflict in Libya and on broader issues such as support for the Muslim Brotherhood. However, they have long since reconnected, so much so that last September, Abu Dhabi purchased 20 Bayraktar TB2 drones from Ankara.

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