Fighter jets screaming overhead and theatrical explosions marked the opening of an arms show today in Abu Dhabi, as a bullet-scarred Emirati armored personnel carrier served as a reminder of the country's ongoing military campaign in Yemen.
The Emirates announced over USD 1.2 billion in arms deals at the opening of the biennial International Defense Exhibition and Conference, known by the acronym IDEX. It and other Gulf nations, buoyed by rising oil prices and suspicious of nearby Iran, are likely to spend even more in the weeks and months ahead.
"The need for new equipment for modernized systems is still there and it is increasing," said Charles Forrester, a senior defense industry analyst at IHS Jane's. "Countries are beginning to deploy their own operations in ... Iraq and Yemen and so they need to find ways to deploy and protect their people, as well as achieve their missions."
Two of the UAE's most-powerful rulers, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, attended the event today. During the military demonstration, they flanked Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the world's the only sitting head of state facing genocide charges at the International Criminal Court.
Al-Bashir attended the 2015 IDEX arms show, but this year's trip comes after US President Barack Obama issued an executive order in the waning days of his administration to permanently revoke a broad range of American sanctions on Sudan after a six-month waiting period.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who was also in Abu Dhabi today, was not seen at the demonstration. Brig. Gen. Rashid al-Shamsi, an IDEX spokesman, said he didn't know if Mattis attended.
Al-Shamsi announced over USD 1.2 billion in deals, the lion's share coming from the USD 544 million purchase of 400 armored personnel carriers from a local manufacturer. Raytheon Co., based in Waltham, Massachusetts, announced a deal with the UAE navy for missiles to arm its Baynunah-class corvettes.
Many of the other contracts dealt with resupplying ammunition for the UAE, which is taking part in the Saudi-led campaign against Shiite rebels and their allies in Yemen. The war, which has killed over 10,000 civilians, began in September 2014, and the Gulf Arab nations entered the conflict in March 2015. It shows no signs of ending soon.
Iran remains a worry for Gulf Arab nations after world powers agreed to lift sanctions in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear program.
"In Yemen, ... It's a conventional war, of course, but it is one where you have to deal with armored vehicles and airpower as well," Forrester said. "With the Iranian threat, it is the case of missile defense systems, radars to help track these situations.
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