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Saudi Arabia: 'urgent situation' as Kingdom runs out of missiles  

A member of the US Airforce looks on near a Patriot missile battery at the Prince Sultan air base in Al-Kharj, in central Saudi Arabia on February 20, 2020. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
A member of the US Airforce looks on near a Patriot missile battery at the Prince Sultan air base in Al-Kharj, in central Saudi Arabia on February 20, 2020 [ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

Bipartisan criticism of US arms sale to Saudi Arabia has put the Kingdom at risk, according to a senior US official quoted by the Financial Times. Riyadh is said to be facing an "urgent situation" following the depletion of interceptor missiles for its US-made Patriot air-defence system; the shortage is so critical that it has asked Gulf allies to replenish stocks.

The official told the FT that the US supports the moves to source missiles from Gulf countries amid an escalation in the number of rocket and drone strikes on Saudi Arabia by Houthi rebels in Yemen. "There are other places in the Gulf they can get them from, and we are trying to work on that," the US official is quoted saying, while explaining that it was a quicker alternative to purchasing more weapons from the US.

Two people briefed on talks between Saudi Arabia and its neighbours confirmed that Riyadh had made such requests. "There is an interceptor shortage. Saudi Arabia has asked its friends for loans, but there are not many to be had," said one. It is not clear if Saudi Arabia's neighbours have been able to supply it with replacement missiles yet.

Saudi ballistic missile program: US-China rivalry in Gulf

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is said to have raised the issue during the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh in December. The Kingdom then contacted regional capitals directly.

Though the administration of US President Joe Biden is said to be committed to the defence of Saudi Arabia, the shortage is believed to be a consequence of bipartisan criticism in Washington over the war in Yemen. Biden froze the sale of weapons to Riyadh after entering the White House but towards the end of last year, controversially he renewed the sale of 280 air-to-air missiles.

In December the Senate rejected a bipartisan bid to block the $680m deal, indicating that Washington remains deeply divided on the sale of weapons to Riyadh. Sourcing missiles from Gulf allies appears to be a way to avoid delays in replenishment.

Despite the controversy, there is growing recognition in Washington of the need to maintain the supply of weapons to Riyadh due to fears that it may turn to China. "We need to defend them [the Saudis] from adversaries and pre-empt the Chinese moving in," a member of the Democratic Party is reported as saying.

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