Saudi Arabia is targeting Israel and Iran with powerful ballistic missiles, new satellite photography shown by military experts to The Daily Telegraph suggests.
Images analyzed by experts at IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review have revealed a hitherto undisclosed surface-to-surface missile base deep in the Saudi desert, capable of hitting both countries.
The analysts spotted two launch pads with markings pointing north-west towards Tel Aviv and north-east towards Tehran. They are designed for Saudi Arabia’s arsenal of truck-launched DF3 missiles, which have a range of 1,500 to 2,500 miles and can carry a two-ton payload.
The base, believed to have been built within the past five years, gives an insight into Saudi strategic thinking at a time of heightened tensions in the Gulf. While Saudi Arabia does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel, it has long maintained back-channel communications as part of attempts to promote stability in the region.
The two countries also have a mutual enemy in Iran, which has long seen Saudi Arabia as a rival power in the Gulf. Experts fear that if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia would seek to follow suit.
Analysts at IHS Jane’s believe that the kingdom is in the process of upgrading its missiles, although even the DF3, which dates back to the Eighties, is potentially big enough to carry a nuclear device.
The missile base, which is at al-Watah, about 125 miles south-west of the capital, Riyadh, was discovered during a project by IHS Jane’s to update its assessment of Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities.
It serves as both a training and launch facility, with the missiles stored in an underground silo built into a rocky hillside. To the north of the facility are two circular launch pads, both with compass-style markings showing the precise direction that the launchers should fire in.
The Chinese-made missiles are not remotely guided and have to be aimed at their target before firing.
“One appears to be aligned on a bearing of approximately 301 degrees and suggesting a potential Israeli target, and the other is oriented along an azimuth [bearing] of approximately 10 degrees, ostensibly situated to target Iranian locations,” said the IHS Jane’s article, which is published Thursday.
While the trailer-launched missiles could theoretically be fired from any location, the idea of having pre-planned directional markers was to ensure that they could be deployed in accurate fashion as quickly as possible, said Allison Puccioni, an image expert at IHS Jane’s.
“There is a marked out spot for the launch truck to park in, which will facilitate an expedited launch,” she said.
Robert Munks, deputy editor of IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review, said: “Our assessment suggests that this base is either partly or fully operational, with the launch pads pointing in the directions of Israel and Iran respectively.
“We cannot be certain that the missiles are pointed specifically at Tel Aviv and Tehran themselves, but if they were to be launched, you would expect them to be targeting major cities.
“We do not want to make too many inferences about the Saudi strategy, but clearly Saudi Arabia does not enjoy good relations with either Iran or Israel.”
Officials at the Saudi embassy in London did not respond when contacted by The Daily Telegraph.
The Israeli embassy in London said: “We have no comment on this matter”.
David Butter, an associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House, a London-based foreign affairs think tank, said: “It would seem that they are looking towards some sort of deterrent capability, which is an obvious thing for them to be doing, given that Iran too is developing its own ballistic missiles.”
He added, though, that the Saudis would know that the site would come to the attention of foreign intelligence agencies, and that the missile pad pointed in the direction of Israel could partly be just “for show.”
“It would give the Iranians the impression that they were not being exclusively targeted, and would also allow the Saudis to suggest to the rest of the Arab world that they still consider Israel a threat.”
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia considers itself one of the pre-eminent powers in the Gulf region, but its Sunni Islam leadership has long been at loggerheads with the Shia mullahs of Iran.
The conflict in Syria, in which Saudi Arabia has backed the Sunni-dominated rebels and Iran has backed the Shia-dominated regime of President Bashar al-Assad, has heightened fears of a wider sectarian conflict.
A confidential diplomatic cable revealed in the “Wiki-Leaks” disclosures of 2010 said that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia repeatedly exhorted the United States to launch military strikes against Iran’s nuclear programme and “cut off the head of the snake.”
Saudi has been thought to have had ballistic missiles for years, but the news here is that this base was heretofore unknown. In a check of Missile Threat, Saudi Arabia is not listed as possessing any ballistic missiles. There have rumors about the possibility, but this is the first confirmation of them.