In the five-year period of 2011-2015, arms imports by Middle Eastern governments rose 61 percent compared to the period from 2006-2010. Saudi Arabia, the world’s second largest arms importer between 2011-2015 — after India — increased its arms imports by 275 percent compared to 2006-2010. During that same period, arms imports by the United Arab Emirates increased by 35 percent and those by Qatar rose by 279 percent. Egypt’s arms imports increased by 37 percent during 2011-20155 compared to 2006-2010. Twenty-seven percent of arms imported by countries in the region went to Saudi Arabia, 18 percent to the United Arab Emirates, and 14 percent to Turkey.
The sudden increase in arms imports is primarily due to the collective military actions by Arab states against militants and anti-government forces in Yemen, many of whom are supported by Iran and al-Qaeda on competing sides.
Despite U.S. concerns about the impact on civilians of Saudi-led Arab air strikes in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is expected to receive more arms from Western countries in the next five years. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), 150 combat aircrafts and thousands of air-to-surface missiles and anti-tank missiles will come from the United States, fourteen combat aircrafts will come from the United Kingdom, and an undisclosed but large number of armored vehicles from Canada, with turrets from Belgium, will be supplied to the Saudi military.
The Qatari support of military action in Yemen has brought about new arms deliveries that will increase the country’s military arsenal. Outstanding orders include 25 combat helicopters, 9 air defense systems, and 3 airborne early warning aircrafts from the United States, 24 combat aircrafts from France, and 52 tanks from Germany. After lifting of a partial suspension of arms sales to Egypt, the United States delivered 12 combat aircrafts to Egypt, and Egypt is expected to receive an undisclosed number of weapons from France, Germany, and Russia.
The United States accounted for 33 percent of total global arms exports in the 2011-2015 period. The largest recipients of those arms exports were Saudi Arabia, accounting for 9.7 percent, and the United Arab Emirates with 9.1 percent. The Middle East accounted for 8.2 percent of Russia’s arms exports, while Pakistan was the main recipient of Chinese arms exports, accounting for 35 percent. French and German arms exports to the Middle East accounted for 27 and 23 percent of the country’s arms exports, respectively, between 2011 and 2015.
Middle East arms imports for the next five years are expected to increase or remain comparable, as analysts remain uncertain about the conclusion of the region’s primary conflicts– the unrests in Syria and Yemen. Declining oil prices will reduce Middle East military budgets, but new threats, including Iran’s return to the global political stage and its growing influence in Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon will offset any urge to reduce military budgets to pre-Syrian civil war levels.