The coming Middle East missile arms race

Read the full article on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

When pundits speak of a post-American Middle East, they are often referring to American fatigue in the region, coupled with Russia’s resurgence following its successful intervention and subsequent military expansion in Syria.

But the bigger story of the geopolitical transition underway in the Middle East is the rise of local powers, and how they increasingly operate outside the US strategic orbit due to their decreasing confidence in US leadership.

Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen is one example. Traditionally a US partner, Riyadh has taken matters into its own hands, leading an intervention in Yemen’s civil war, because of its doubts about Washington’s involvement in the region.

But beyond Yemen, there is a broader trend of independent policy-making and action on the part of presumed US partners that underscores how the region has gradually moved away from America’s control. This trend is most evident in national defense strategy, and specifically the quest by some key US partners in the Middle East—for now, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—for greater offensive military capabilities in the form of longer-range and more precise ballistic missiles.

Last month, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement that his country was investing in a beefed-up and more accurate rocket and missile force. “The project for setting up a precision rocket and missile system is underway. Part of it is already in production and part is in the final phases of research and development,” he said. “We are acquiring and developing precision fire systems that will allow … the Israel Defense Forces to cover within a few years every point in the region.”