Saudi Arabia is surrounded by some of the most unstable and dangerous countries in the Middle East, as the Kingdom shares a 814-kilometer boundary with Iraq, 1,458-kilometer boundary with Yemen, 2,510-kilometer coastline on the Gulf and the Red Sea with Iran — which is only a five-minute jet fighter flight away. So, Saudi Arabia is confronted with numerous challenges.

First, Iran’s nuclear program and military capabilities are of great concern for Saudi Arabia as the Saudis’ armed forces are far from being able to challenge Iran.

Second, the situation in Iraq is a threat to Saudi Arabia stability as unstable, not unified and still under U.S. occupation.

Third, the current fighting on the Yemeni border with the Shia Houthis separatists is a challenge to Saudi Arabia national security. Furthermore, the President of Yemen warned that if calls for separation continue a new civil war could take place, which would result, according to him, not just be a simple division between the north and the south but would be a division between villages and states. Moreover, early 2009, Al Qaeda announced the merger of its Saudi and Yemeni branches in Yemen, raising the alarm of counterterrorist agencies, fearing that Yemen may become a terrorist safe haven, adding even more pressure on Saudi Arabia.

Four, Saudi Arabia is facing continuing instability in the Red Sea Area, such as the radical Sudan and the failed state of Somalia.

Finally, Saudi Arabia depends on the United States for its security and is an important source of trade and technology. However, some Muslims countries have strong views on this close cooperation, given the United States policies in the Middle East, from Israel to Iraq, which impede the kingdom wide range of action in the region.

Therefore, Saudi Arabia needs to play a crucial role in the region to achieve its number one priority: national security, which would ensure the legitimacy of the regime — its number two priority — while preserving its position as world leading exporter of petroleum — the Kingdom’s third priority.

Photo attributed to: PV2 Andrew W. McGalliard

Written by Linda Bouzembrak