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Military base in Saudi Arabia appears to be testing ballistic missiles, experts and images suggest

Rogue Valley

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Military base in Saudi Arabia appears to be testing ballistic missiles, experts and images suggest

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1/26/19
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A military base deep inside Saudi Arabia appears to be testing and possibly manufacturing ballistic missiles, experts and satellite images suggest, evidence of the type of weapons program it has long criticized its archrival Iran for possessing. Further raising the stakes for any such program are comments by Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who said last year the kingdom wouldn't hesitate to develop nuclear weapons if Iran does. Ballistic missiles can carry nuclear warheads to targets thousands of miles away. Officials in Riyadh and the Saudi Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment. Having such a program could further strain relations with the U.S., the kingdom's longtime security partner, at a time when ties already are being tested by the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Jeffrey Lewis, a missile expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif., said heavy investment in missiles often correlates with an interest in nuclear weapons. "I would be a little worried that we're underestimating the Saudis' ambitions here," said Lewis, who has studied the satellite images.

Jane's Defence Weekly first identified the base in 2013, suggesting its two launch pads appear oriented to target Israel and Iran with ballistic missiles the kingdom previously bought from China. The November satellite images show what appear to be structures big enough to build and fuel ballistic missiles. An apparent rocket-engine test stand can be seen in a corner of the base — the type on which a rocket is positioned on its side and test-fired in place. Such testing is key for countries attempting to manufacture working missiles, experts say. The question remains where Saudi Arabia gained the technical know-how to build such a facility. Lewis said the Saudi stand closely resembles a design used by China, though it is smaller. A Saudi program would only complicate efforts by the U.S. and its Western allies to limit Iran's ballistic missile program, said STRATFOR, the Austin, Texas-based private intelligence firm. STRATFOR said that "should Saudi Arabia move into a test-launch phase, the United States will be pressured to take action with sanctions," as it has done with Iran. If the Saudis produce "medium-range systems inherently capable of carrying nuclear weapons, the response will be much more robust, though likely out of public view," Elleman said. "Congress, on the other hand, may lash out, as this will be seen as another affront to the U.S. and regional stability."

Frankly, I would be surprised if the Saudis weren't working on a ballistic delivery system. No surprise if China is involved. Riyadh knows the US would not supply the technical expertise for this endeavor.
 
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