The UK-Saudi close relation dates back to 1920s when Britain recognized Saudi Arabia. In fact, in September 1918, it was Britain that helped the Arab revolt and hence Arabs’ independence from the ruling Ottoman Empire.
According to historical evidence, Britain spent £220,000 per month to provide significant supplies of weapons, most notably rifles and machine-guns for the rebellion.
Saudi Arabia has been since one of the biggest buyers of British military equipment. But apart from military contracts between the UK and Saudi Arabia, there are also more than 150 joint ventures between companies from the two countries.
According to reports, British Ministry of Defense (MoD) deploys around 270 civil servants and military personnel in the UK and Saudi Arabia to support the bilateral military contracts as part of the MoD Armed Forces Programme and the Saudi Arabia National Guard Communications Project.
The bilateral trade between the two countries worth £15 billion a year while Saudi investment in Britain worth more than £62 billion.
In 1985, the British and Saudi governments began negotiations on a series of unprecedented arms contract known as Al-Yamamah, which involved massive orders for British Tornado fighter planes, helicopters, tanks and ammunitions, most of which were built and supplied by Britain’s BAE Systems and its predecessor British Aerospace.
In order to finance the deal, which was the largest arms deal in UK history, the Saudi’s agreed to supply 600,000 barrels (95,000 m3) of crude oil per day to the British government, and particularly to BP and Royal Dutch Shell oil companies.
Police, however, later disclosed that more than £6 billion had been distributed in corrupt commissions, via an array of agents and middlemen in relation to the controversial arms deal.
Saudi Arabia, which is Britain’s primary trading partner in the Middle East, also made a military agreement with the UK in December 2005, according to which the UK would equip Saudi Arabia with Eurofighter Typhoons.
The governments of the UK and Saudi Arabia, therefore, signed the “Understanding Document” which involved the sale of Typhoon aircraft to replace RSAF Tornados and other aircraft.
The deal, which involved the supply of 72 aircrafts, was worth £6 billion, according to the state-run BBC.
Other reports, however, put the value at £10 billion with 50,000 jobs at stake.
In February 2006, British Air Forces Monthly magazine suggested that the eventual Eurofighter order may reach 100 and the deal could include the upgrade of the RSAF’s Tornado IDS aircraft, likely similar to the RAF’s Tornado GR4.
The two courtiers also started their joint military drills dubbed Green Flag military exercises recently at RAF Coningsby air base in England.
According Al-Arabiya, the joint air drills, including air crew surveillance missions, aim at improving the Saudi side’s capability for conducting electronic warfare and air tactics.
Being a close friend and ally to Britain, Saudi Arabia also protects the UK’s interests in the region by assisting the dictatorial regime of King Hamad Al-Khalifa of Bahrain to crackdown on popular protests in the tiny Persian Gulf island.
At the beginning of the Bahraini revolution in 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates invaded the country, upon Manama’s request, to help the Bahraini regime quash the uprising.
Earlier in 2011, in response to questions made under the Freedom of Information Act, the MoD also confirmed that British personnel regularly run courses for Saudi Arabia’s National Guard in “weapons, fieldcraft and general military skills training, as well as incident handling, bomb disposal, search, public order and sniper training”.
According to the released documents, Bahrain’s royal family used 1,200 Saudi troops to help put down demonstrations in March, 2011. At the time when the British government expressed “deep concerns” over the reports of human rights abuses in the county.
International rights groups including the London-based Amnesty International, have repeatedly condemned the Bahraini regime for suppression of the opposition forces and persecution of protesters, including children.