What Happened: Satellite imagery analysis commissioned by The Washington Post suggests that Saudi Arabia has built a ballistic missile factory, according to the publication's report on Jan. 23. The experts cited in the report say the imagery appears to depict a rocket engine production and test facility southwest of Riyadh at al-Watah, though it remains unclear whether the facility is complete or functionally capable of producing missiles.
Why It Matters: While the facility at al-Watah has been a known missile base since 2013, this is the first time experts have publicly acknowledged that Saudi Arabia might be working toward producing its own missiles based on modifications made to the facility. It's not unlikely that Riyadh is examining all possibilities, faced with the growing threat of rival Iran's ballistic missile program across the Persian Gulf. However, should Saudi Arabia move into a test-launch phase, the United States will be pressured to take action with sanctions to ensure Iran follows through on ending its ballistic missile program.
Background: In a public interview in March 2018, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made clear of his desire to develop a nuclear weapon to compete with Iran. The country has also been trying to develop its own domestic arms and military equipment production industry. Although Saudi Arabia has purchased missiles from China in the past, the United States has historically been hesitant to sell ballistic missiles to Riyadh, fearing doing so would fuel further instability in the region.
Why Saudi Arabia is Embracing a New Nationalism (Jan. 4, 2019)
Riyadh out to Make Fewer Foreign Policy Waves in 2019 (Dec. 18, 2018)