Word just emerged that Saudi Arabia is purchasing 200 Leopard II tanks from Germany. It’s a reversal of an old German policy of not selling heavy weaponry to the Saudis, but it’s more notable that they are not American tanks–Washington might be feeling a bit slighted that one of its advanced armored vehicles wasn’t selected, though selling weapons to the Kingdom is always tricky politically.
The al Saud don’t take good care of their military–they keep it weak and organizationally divided so it can’t threaten a coup–but they do buy it a lot of fancy toys, giving them one of the biggest defense budgets in the world. Despite its immense economic blessings beneath the earth, it is in an extremely vulnerable position–strong neighbors like Iraq, Iran, Egypt, and Israel, coupled with open desert terrain. Buying tanks is thus a smart move–it gives the Saudis a nice maneuver warfare capability to keep threats at bay. However, it’s noteworthy that they bought the 2A7+ model–one of the most modern Leopard II types, but also a model specialized for urban warfare (among other roles) with improved armor and protection against mines (read: IEDs), better sight-lines, and a remotely controlled machine gun mounted at the top (taking one of the tank’s most vulnerable crewmen out of the sights of snipers). It’s difficult not to see a little Tendenz here, given the al Saud’s most pressing current security worries–unrest in the oil-rich, Shia-dominated Eastern Province, and unrest in Yemen. We shouldn’t read too much into this–tanks aren’t ideal urban warfare weapons–but the fact that they picked this model over others is very difficult to ignore. The Saudis might see themselves playing a continued hard role in Yemen, and they might see themselves fighting off rebellious subjects.