Saudi Arabia To Conduct Military Exercise With France, Greece, Sudan And Pakistan

Saudi air force personnel were greeted on arrival by the Kingdom’s ambassador to Greece Dr. Saad bin Abdulrahman Al-Ammar and other officials. (SPA)

The Royal Saudi Air Forces fighter jets arrived in Greece on Saturday ahead of their participation in military exercise Eye of the Falcon 1, which will take place in March. The F-15C fighter jets touched down with their air, technical and support crews in Crete.

The Saudi and Greek air forces will carry out joint sorties and exercises in the skies over the Mediterranean Sea. Saudi air force personnel were greeted on arrival by the Kingdom’s ambassador to Greece Dr. Saad bin Abdulrahman Al-Ammar and other officials.

The “Falcon Eye 1” exercise took place at the Souda Air Force Base in Greece. (Saudi Ministry of Defense)

The exercise aims to refine and develop the skills of the air and technical crews and raise the combat readiness of Saudi air forces. It also aims to facilitate the exchange of military experiences in planning and implementing air operations.

But as Saudi Arabia drills alongside its neighbors, the country may have to deal with Mediterranean rivals Turkey and Greece.

Tension between Greece and Turkey flared last year over maritime boundaries and energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean, leading to a military buildup in the area that featured warships from the two countries facing off.

However, in a sign that relations might improve, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said March 17 that his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, is set to visit Turkey on April 14. The announcement came after senior Turkish and Greek diplomats held exploratory talks in Athens — part of a series of such meetings designed to build trust between the neighboring countries.

Col. Abdulrahman Al-Shehri, commander of the RSAF group participating in the exercise, said: “The beginning of the exercise was preceded by several coordination meetings with the Greek Air Force, which focused on mechanisms of action, types of flights and the participating aircraft, and accordingly a complete program was developed that includes all sorties.”

“When it comes to cooperation with other states like Sudan and Greece, Saudi Arabia is actively exploring how to strengthen bilateral and multilateral security cooperation with regional states that share similar concerns about Turkey flexing its muscles in the Mediterranean and the Red sea. It is all these states’ interests to try to cooperate in the maritime domain,” said Aram Nerguizian, a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Saudi and French navies joined forces March 10 for White Shark 21 to enhance security cooperation in the region. And the Saudi and Sudanese navies kicked off Al-Fulk 4 on March 21 at King Faisal Naval Base, where the two services practiced ship inspections, fighting in urban areas and in buildings, and combat patrols. They also tested their primary and secondary weaponry skills, as reported by the official Saudi Press Agency. Days later, on March 23, Saudi Arabia’s Western Fleet participated in Red Sea drills with its Indonesian counterpart.

As practice against attacks on oil facilities, the Royal Saudi Navy conducted a joint military drill with domestic units, including the Interior Ministry’s Eastern Province Border Guards, the Presidency of State Security, as well as the Energy Ministry represented by Saudi Aramco and the Aramco Gulf Operations Company.

For its part, the Royal Saudi Air Force carried out a joint military exercise with the U.S. Air Force to raise the level of joint combat readiness and boost cooperation. The Royal Saudi Air Force also brought its F-15s to the UAE for the Desert Flag exercise.

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The Saudi-Sudanese naval exercise Al-Fulk 4 took place at King Faisal Naval Base. (Saudi Press Agency)

Highlighting the growing relationship between Greece and Saudi Arabia, Falcon Eye 1 featured the countries’ air forces performing sorties for offensive and defensive counteroperations drills.

U.S. and Saudi land forces also gathered in the kingdom for Falcon Claws 3, a joint exercise aimed at strengthening military relations, exchanging expertise and concepts, and improving combat readiness to face external threats.

In addition, beginning on March 27, the Royal Saudi Air Force and Pakistan Air Force will take part in a two-week air exercise.

The operation is called Samsam 7. (SPA)

“Military exercises in all their forms come within the framework of raising the efficiency and readiness of all branches of the Saudi Armed Forces, and the security and safety of navigation in the Arabian Gulf comes on top of priorities for all Arab Gulf states. And the programs to develop the Eastern Fleet of the Royal Saudi Navy confirm the growing regional role in securing navigation not only in the waters of the Arabian Gulf, but this concept will expand in the future to include the Arabian Sea, within an imperative strategy — security of the whole of the Arabian Peninsula.”

Earlier this month, two Saudi Arabian manufacturers announced they will co-produce the Karayel-SU drone under license from the Turkish company Vestel Savunma.

“The KSA-Greece drills show KSA’s support for Greece’s regional policies, which are counter to Turkish interest. Turkey has realized that the military show of force is not enough in the Eastern Mediterranean without support from the important actors in the region,” Kurc told Defense News. “I think we are observing a shift in Turkey’s behavior in the region. Turkey’s priority now is to end its isolation by repairing the damaged relations. This is what we are seeing with Turkey’s rapprochement with Egypt and KSA. At this point, the drills would not have a significant effect on the process because the priority is to mend the relations.”

However, he acknowledged, Saudi Arabia and Turkey still have much to resolve. “There are some inherent sources of competition between Turkey and KSA. Aligning KSA and Turkey’s interest in the East Med seems difficult at this point.”

“Deepening the defense-industrial cooperation would depend on whether Turkey and KSA could resolve their deep-running disagreements in the region. Furthermore, KSA has many potential suppliers who would be willing to cooperate with Saudi defense companies. The competition would be tough for Turkey,” Kurc said. “The issue could become more complicated as Turkish companies increasingly have difficulties in reaching Western technologies, [which prevents sales] to third countries.”

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