Friday, March 27, 2015

WHICH SAUDI ARMY? Ghassan Kadi. 26 March 2015


Saudi Arabia’s military budget of $bn 80.8 in 2014 ranked the third in the world, and scored higher than that of Russia with the USA and China being the first and second, respectively. Russia’s budget for 2014 was $bn 70 only.

Daunting as they are, on their own, those figures do not mean much at all. On face value alone, they may indicate to some that Riyadh’s military prowess is mightier than that of Moscow. This is very far from the truth.

Unless one has actually worked and lived in Saudi Arabia, it becomes difficult to fathom the financial disparity between that state and any other country in the world. As a general rule of thumb, whatever costs a dollar anywhere in the world will cost much more in Saudi Arabia. This is not so much because commodities are more expensive in Saudi Arabia. Commodities have an international price, but all services rendered in Saudi Arabia are performed by ex-pats; highly paid ex-pats, who are not highly paid necessarily because of the great work they do, but for putting up and accepting to live under the dark and suppressive Saudi regime.

But this is not all, Saudis do not work. They like to pose as managers and their laws make them de-facto partners and 51% shareholders in all companies with the other 49% holding belong to the ex-pat who has the know-how and willingness to work, and sometimes even the working capital.

Everything in Saudi Arabia is done by ex-pats, all the way from petroleum extraction to construction to medical services, teaching, farming, etc…. Everything is run by “foreign experts” with Saudi shadows in the background pretending to be the brains trust. The number of ex-pats who work and live in Saudi Arabia is a living proof. Initially, it was expected that once Saudis acquired enough expertise in different areas, they would not need those foreign professionals any longer, but more than five decades into the petro-dollar boom, the number of those experts did not shrink. This is not likely to change because the Saudis firmly believe that they are superior and deserve to be served by members of lower nations.

If the reliance on ex-pats in Saudi Arabia is so strong in all sectors of life, why would we expect the army to be any different? During the siege of the Mecca Shrine in 1979, Saudi Arabia hired SSG Pakistani commandos to engage with the rebels. Surely, more than three decades later, the Saudi Army now is not where it was back in 1979, but nonetheless, it has not gained any combat experience at all….none what so ever.

If Saudis cannot construct bridges, build airports and perform surgeries, what makes anyone believe that they are able to use the expensive military toys they bought from America?

To complicate matters even more, the personnel of the Saudi Army are mainly Bedouins who are loyal to the royal family. Their loyalty may sound like a huge credit, but once again, it takes those who are familiar with Saudi Bedouins and their interactions with machines to understand their incapability of handling motor vehicles let alone high-tech military hardware.

The Saudi Army is now being put to the test. It is directly engaging in war in Yemen for the first time ever. It is highly unlikely that it will be able to prove the worth of the investment. Will they buy fighting partners? Will they lure Egypt with more funds? Will they engage Pakistan again? Time will tell.

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