Saudi Arabia eclipses India as world's largest weapons importer

The Middle East has become the world's largest regional market for weapons amid turmoil as Russia faces sales dip due to sanctions.

March 8, 2015 12:06

A member of the Saudi border guards force stands guard next to a fence on Saudi Arabia’s northern borderline with Iraq last month.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

According to the last publication by the Global Defense Trade Report,  in 2014 Saudi Arabia has become the largest importer of military hardware in the world, surpassing nuclear powers such as India and China, which now rank second and third respectively.

Meanwhile Israel, from among the 10 largest weapons exporters, has dropped from the sixth to the seventh slot as of 2014.

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"Growth in Saudi Arabia has been dramatic and, based on previous orders, these numbers are not going to slow down” said Benny Moores, a senior analyst for IHS Aerospace, Defense and Security.

One feature of this seemingly exponential pattern is that in 2015 one out of every seven dollars spent on weapons imports will originate from Saudi coffers.

Speculators observing the House of Saud's 54% expenditure leap between 2013 and 2014, and its similar 52% rise in 2015, have suggested that the massive defense budget which currently stands at $9.8 billion, is a symptom of Riyadh's anxieties regarding Iran, whose involvement in multiple conflicts in the Middle East has raised the geo-political stakes.

Iran has been an active supporter of the embattled Assad regime in Syria, whose efforts against an assortment of local rebel and jihadist groups, have been buttressed by Tehran's proxy militia Hezbollah. The Islamic Republic has also re-ignited its efforts to arm Hamas in the Gaza Strip and has been strengthened by the rise of Shi'ite Houthis in Yemen, which came at the expense of the poor Gulf state's Western backed government and has created a potential Iranian sphere of influence on Saudi Arabia's backdoor.

According to broader figures in the report however, Saudi Arabia is not alone in its escalation of arms purchases. The Middle East as a region has become the largest destination for American firepower.

“When we look at the likely export addressable opportunities at a global level for the defense industry, five of the 10 leading countries are from the Middle East,” Moores said.

“The Middle East is the biggest regional market and there are $110 billion in opportunities in the coming decade."

Other notable details from the report included the United States' continued status as the world's largest military hardware exporter, as well as the Russian Federation's record year for sales, rising nine percent and earning the Russian Bear $10 billion. Despite the success of last year, Moscow will face difficulties in 2015 due to the scheduled close of many programs, a pattern that is negatively affecting the rate of its arms deliveries and that will likely be worsened by rising sanctions resulting from its involvement in the current Ukrainian civil war.  

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