Saudi Arabia has constructed its first known ballistic missile factory, a move analysts say could allow the kingdom to manufacture its own ballistic weapons.
Experts at the Middlebury Institute in Washington DC said on Wednesday that after examining a number of satellite images it appeared the kingdom had constructed a missile base in al-Watah, near the capital Riyadh.
“We were monitoring a site that was previously associated with being a Saudi missile base and as we continued to monitor the site we noticed … the construction of buildings related to the testing and production of solid fuel ballistic missiles,” David Schmerler, whose team helped make this discovery, told Al Jazeera.
“We haven’t really seen this type of construction activity elsewhere in Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia does not have any other large-scale solid fuel production facilities in the country, so this would be a significant leap forward for them being able to develop their own domestic missile programme.”
Saudi Arabia, along with Israel and the United States, have long criticised Iran’s ballistic missile program, viewing it as a regional threat.
“Iran has the largest ballistic missile force in the region and a large chuck of those missiles would be pointed at Saudi Arabia,” Schmerler said.
“They’ve been launching missiles out of Yemen using Houthi rebels as a test-bed for attacks against Saudi Arabia. So it would make sends for them to try and look into developing domestic ballistic missiles because they don’t have that capability at the moment”.
Iran, whose nuclear program for now remains limited by its 2015 deal with world powers, insists its atomic program is peaceful. But Western powers have long feared it was pursuing nuclear weapons in the guise of a civilian program, allegations denied by Tehran.
According to the Washington Post, the kingdom currently doesn’t possess nuclear weapons, but Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS) has expressed his desire to obtain them, to counter the threat from Iran.
“Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” MBS told CBS’ “60 Minutes’ in an interview last March.