Saudi Arabia wants Turkey’s armed drones, says Erdogan

Saudi Arabia is seeking to buy armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a press briefing yesterday. Erdogan made the remarks after voicing his displeasure at Riyadh’s decision to carry out joint military exercises with Greece, Turkey’s long-standing rival.

“Saudi Arabia is conducting joint exercises with Greece,” said Erdogan, “yet at the same time, Saudi Arabia is asking us for armed drones. Our hope is to solve this issue calmly without getting heated.”

Last month the Saudis participated in the “Friendship Forum” in Athens, which was also attended by Egypt, France, Cyprus, the UAE and Bahrain. Turkey’s foreign ministry condemned the meeting.

“It is not possible for any forum not to include Turkey, the key country in its region, and Turkish Cypriots, to constitute an effective and successful mechanism of cooperation and friendship with regard to the challenges in the region,” said the ministry.

Ties between Ankara and Riyadh hit their lowest point following the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. It is alleged that the killing was approved and sanctioned by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

Relations were also strained the year before, when Turkey sided with Qatar after a Saudi-led boycott was imposed on the Gulf State which has since been lifted. Moreover, both countries opposed the 2013 military coup against Egypt’s first democratically-elected President, the late Mohamed Morsi.

Turkey has emerged as one of the world’s leading makers of armed drones, which played an instrumental role in Azerbaijan’s six-week war against Armenia last year over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. They have also been deployed in Syria and Libya to devastating effect.

Riyadh already has a technology transfer agreement with Turkey’s privately-owned Vestel Company that allows Saudi Arabia to manufacture its own military drones. There are, though, concerns that it is also seeking weapons that could bypass Western arms embargoes imposed due to its war against Yemen.