Interview: Weapons transfer could aggravate situation in Mideast and North Africa: expert

09:46, March 02, 2011      

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Arms supply to the Middle East and North Africa has negative effects on the volatile region, said Peter Wezeman, a senior researcher on arms in the Middle East from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute on Tuesday.

"The Middle East and North Africa are important export markets for arms producers in other parts of the world. In particular the United Arab Emirates(UAE), Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt and Algeria have received large quantities of weapons," Wezeman said in a written interview with Xinhua.

The UAE was the 4th largest importer worldwide of major conventional arms in the period 2005-2009. Other Gulf states have also been significant arms importers and Morocco has ordered significant numbers of weapons in recent years which will be delivered from 2011, he said.

Notable outsiders in this regards are Syria and Iran. Syria does not have the means to procure much and lacks the political significance to obtain military aid. Iran, focusing on its missile program, has not upgraded its conventional armed forces much in recent years and will not be able to do so now because it is under UN sanctions with prohibition of the supply of most major arms to the country.

Wezeman said that the United States is the key supplier of arms to most countries.

"In particular the UAE and Saudi Arabia which have procured and are planning to procure large numbers of advanced weapons from the USA. Egypt and Israel are large recipients of U.S. arms because they receive them as partly or completely for free as part of U.S. military aid," Wezeman said.

The U.S. does not supply weapons to Syria, Iran and Libya.

The European Union and Sweden on Sunday decided to impose sanctions against Libya. But many European countries except Russia have marketed weapons in the region and, in particular the UK and France, are supplying significant volumes of arms to the region.

In particular because of shrinking domestic markets European companies are actively seeking sales opportunities elsewhere.

Wezeman said on the one hand recipients and some suppliers argue that arms supplies will contribute to stability and security in the region.

"However the question remains if arms supplies to the gulf region can do so in the light of the fact that Iran is not and cannot pursue major arms procurement," Wezeman said.

Last September Saudi Arabia had reportedly sought the U.S. Government's permission to purchase large numbers of combat aircraft and helicopters from U.S. companies.

"This was just the latest indication that Saudi Arabia is planning a new arms-purchasing spree similar to that in the 1990s, raising questions about the possible impacts of military build-ups in the Gulf region, which includes both Iran and Iraq alongside the Arab states of the Gulf," Wezeman said.

Source: Xinhua

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