ATHENS — Further trying to build allies against Turkish provocations, Greece is tightening military ties with Saudi Arabia, including lending a US-made Patriot air defense missile system as protection against Houthi attacks from Yemen.
The move, said Breaking Defense in a report by Chyrine Mezher, is also designed as a signal to Turkey which is trying to assert authority as a regional power while still planning to hunt for energy in waters off Greek islands.
“We signed an agreement to move a Patriot battery here in Saudi Arabia,” Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said on April 20. “This is a big step forward for our country regarding the cooperation with the Gulf countries and also a contribution to the wider security of the energy sources for the West,” the site said.
“The idea is to face the Turkish muscle-flexing in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. We believe that Riyadh is responding to Turkey through establishing an alliance with Ankara’s rival Greece and carrying out exercises in the nearby region,” officials not named said.
That came a month after Greece and Saudi Arabia held joint drills to develop the skills of air and technical crews, with Saudi F-15s and Greece’s F-16, Mirage 2000 and F-4 Phantom fighter jets taking part.
“Engaging with Greece on such an important aspect of military technology sends a strong political signal,” Yezid Sayegh, Senior Fellow at the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center told Breaking Defense.
“The real question is, who is the intended target? The Saudis have not yet invested in improving ties with Turkey, unlike the UAE who have been warming up. But, nonetheless, I don’t really see any pressing reason for the Saudis to engage in pressuring Turkey just now,” he said.
The Saudis may also be demonstrating that they can go to other sources and solutions for air defense. “They might be building on the worsening of US-Turkish relations, at the heart of which is US unhappiness over Turkish acquisition of the Russian S-400 air defense system,” Sayegh added.
While NATO allies, the defense alliance hasn't moved to stop Turkey from continuing to violate Greek air space and waters, admitting it's too delicate a political issue to deal with.
Saudi Arabia sees benefits too. “The Gulf country is under severe pressure from the Houthi attacks and must protect its skies at all costs,” retired Kuwaiti Air Force Col. Zafer Alajmi told the site.
Alajmi said. “With the US now withdrawing military equipment from the Kingdom, the Saudis don’t have the luxury of choice. They will have to pick a NATO ally of the US to acquire air defense to help boost their defenses and secure world energy supplies.”
But Sayegh said, “Greece offers very little of any military value to the Saudis because its armed forces suffer from aging equipment and their defense industry is not advanced,”
He added that, “Nor are they free to transfer anything they want to Saudi Arabia if it contains any US components,” although the two governments want to improve relations in a number of areas.