It’s rare to see many of the world’s top military leaders in one place. But many of them showed up at the International Defense Exhibition, which opened in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
We saw the Ukranian delegation, in their sandy military uniforms, deep in discussion, huddled over a small table behind a cordon, with security close by.
The Jordanians marched past us. We ran to keep up, asking for an interview. They received us with a smile, but no they were too busy. How is everything? “Very good,” again with a wide smile, and they were off.
We tried talking to some of the representatives of the United Arab Emirates, the host, but they didn’t want to talk.
Outside, I tried to approach two officers deep in conversations – one from the Emirates and one from Greece. The Greek officer went to his superior to see if they would talk to us. But again the answer was no.
Then we came across the Libyans, looking at the military hardware on offer.
These military officers had ‘Libyan National Army” on their uniforms. They belong to the UN-recognised government in Tobruk, in the east of Libya.
There are of course two rival governments in Libya, the other sanctioned by the Supreme Court, in the capital Tripoli. And both supported by a loose coalition of heavily armed fighters.
There is currently an arms embargo on Libya. Weapons may only be imported with UN Security Council Committee approval, and Libya is already drowning in military hardware.
Following the recent beheading of 21 Egyptian coptic Christians by the Libyan affiliated wing of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), there was a call to lift the arms embargo on the UN recognised government. But that has so far not been granted. For now it seems a case of look, but don’t touch.
We were waiting to talk to the Libyan Chief of Staff. But as soon as he got wind that we were from Al Jazeera, he refused. “Qatar, no,” he said. He repeated more firmly, when we tried to insist.
It highlights the regional divisions here: The Tripoli government is perceived to be supported by Qatar and Turkey, whereas the Tobruk one has Egypt and the UAE on its side.
We heard the Libyans held meetings with other military leaders – Western and Arab countries.
This conference is not just about having the latest technology when it comes to air, land and sea capability- but it’s a vital networking opportunity.
The Chinese are here too, not just browsing what’s on offer, but also selling, as so many other countries.
The Americans and the British have their military hardware here, in the form of some of the biggest defence companies in the world.
French and German soldiers showed off their equipment, with two French soldiers simulating a patrol around their stand.
The Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir attended the opening ceremony, he’s here along with his minister of defence. And the Sudanese also had an expanded stand this year, with more weapons and explosives on offer than what they had at the same conference two years ago.
We had a last ditch attempt to follow a delegation – once again marching through the exhibition centre in a hurry. Once I managed to catch up I realised it was the Italians.
How did they feel about the threat of ISIL made just across the Mediterranean? Everyone is concerned of course they told me. But everything is fine. Could they give us an interview? They could, but not today, as they were already behind schedule, heading to another meeting.
The deals that are signed here, and officially announced, are deals that have been in the works for a while. Nothing is last minute. What is more interesting of course, is what is being discussed behind closed doors.