ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Despite the growing coronavirus pandemic, major arms manufacturers arrived Sunday at a convention center in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, in hopes of reaching agreements with the armies of the Middle East.
The UAE unveiled $ 1.36 billion in local and foreign arms deals to supply its forces with everything from South African drones to Serbian artillery. Though the figure tops the 2019 program opening announcement, defense experts anticipate a drop in military spending this year as the pandemic and falling world oil prices squeeze budgets in the Persian Gulf.
The biennial fair, the International Defense Exhibition and Conference, is Abu Dhabi’s first major in-person event since the virus outbreak, a sign of its importance to the oil-rich sheikh who has maintained strict movement restrictions in recent months. . Zoom wouldn’t be enough for the 70,000 attendees and 900 exhibitors who depend on the Middle East’s largest arms expo to search for potential customers and sell their latest products, from armored vehicles to ballistic missiles.
Senior Emirati officials, including the powerful Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, were present, wandering among displays of rifles, rockets and bombs.
But with hand sanitizer as ubiquitous as sterile drone screens, the effects of the pandemic remained visible. There were no major national flags, including the United States, the world’s largest arms exporter.
Large American companies appeared but kept a low profile. Lockheed Martin representatives standing next to F-35 stealth fighter models were silent amid the Biden administration’s review of several major foreign arms sales initiated by former President Donald Trump, including a massive $ 23,000 transfer. million from the F-35s to the United Arab Emirates.
Israeli COVID restrictions also prevented him from joining the exhibition, which would have been the first time he normalized relations with the UAE last year. A technician at the Israeli aerospace industry booth spent a good portion of the afternoon turning away disappointed potential customers.
But many other countries had no qualms about showing up during the pandemic, underscoring how many have boosted their arms exports in the region. The flow of weapons into the Middle East has increased by 61% in the past five years, according to a recent report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, amid proxy wars in Libya, Syria and Yemen.
China, which has the world’s second-largest arms manufacturing industry, lured passersby with a life-size ballistic missile called “Fire Dragon.” At state-owned Norinco, business manager Luo Haopeng said China had increased its floor space this year. Regardless of his company “serving” the Emirati ground forces, he declined to elaborate on his ambitions in the Middle East, where China has already sold armed drones to Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
“This type of equipment is not like food or clothing,” he said, pointing to the giant missile screen. “Everything is related to politics.”
At the Russian pavilion, Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov inspected a wide range of Kalashnikovs. Not far away, Poland’s WB Group showed dazzling sales videos of its “suicide drone” plummeting from great heights to destroy armored vehicles. Azerbaijan had shown interest in the system during its border conflict with Armenia last year, communications director Marta Lazewska said, when Turkish drones helped turn the tide in its favor.
In the Saudi Arabian flag, ranked as the world’s largest arms importer for the past five years, officials were trying to promote the kingdom as an emerging defense giant under their so-called Vision 2030. The program, powered by the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aims to break the country’s import addiction, diversify its economy away from oil, and locate more than half of its military spending.
Despite its radar and U.S. Patriot missile batteries, Saudi Arabia has increasingly been at risk of a cross-border attack from Yemen’s Iran-allied Houthi rebels, who earlier this month launched drones loaded with bombs that crashed into an empty passenger plane in the southwest of the country. airport. A Saudi-led military coalition has been at war with the Houthis since 2015, after rebels drove the Saudi-backed government from the capital. The conflict has created what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
“The threats are obvious lately,” said Walid Abukhaled, chief executive of Saudi Arabian Military Industries Company, a holding company owned by the country’s sovereign wealth fund. “You have drones that come from aggressive countries … you have some missiles fired from time to time.”
Routine airstrikes and rising tensions with Iran could help boost military spending in the region, even as defense intelligence provider IHS Janes expects such spending in the Gulf to drop 9.4% to $ 90.6. billion in 2021, as a result of the economic destruction caused by the pandemic.
“We have returned to early 2020, where again Iran is a potentially big threat,” said Charles Forrester, senior analyst at Janes, referring to a series of escalating incidents that brought the United States and Iran to the brink of war for the last. time. anus.
“If Iran enters a major rearmament program or starts flexing its muscles, that’s where air defense and missile defense systems come into play,” he said. “As we have seen, a very simple system can attack you.”