In Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, major arms manufacturers are attending an arms show in the hope of securing deals with military powers throughout the Middle East.
At the opening, the UAE announced that in local and foreign weapons deals it had signed $1.36bn to supply its forces with everything from South African drones to Serbian artillery.
Although the number surpasses the opening announcement of the 2019 broadcast, defense analysts expect a decrease in military spending this year as the pandemic and slumping global oil prices in the Gulf region squeeze budgets.
The International Security Exhibition and Conference, the biennial trade fair, is the first major in-person event in Abu Dhabi since the coronavirus outbreak, an indication of its importance to the city that has maintained tight restrictions on travel in recent months.
From armored vehicles to ballistic missiles, the 70,000 visitors and 900 exhibitors rely on the largest arms expo in the Middle East to buy and sell the latest products.
On Sunday, top Emirati leaders, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, were on hand wandering between displays of rifles, missiles and explosives.
Yet the pandemic’s symptoms remained apparent with the hand sanitiser as commonplace as sterile drone displays. There were no major national pavilions, including the United States, the world’s largest exporter of firearms.
Big American businesses turned up, but maintained a low profile. In the Biden administration’s analysis of many important international weapons sales initiated by former President Donald Trump, including a huge $23bn transfer of the F-35s to the UAE, Lockheed Martin representatives standing beside models of stealth F-35 fighters were tight-lipped.
It was also prohibited from attending the expo by Israel’s COVID-19 limitations, which would have been a first since it normalized relations with the UAE last year.
However, dozens of other countries attended, underlining how many in the region have increased their weapons exports. According to a new study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Center, the influx of arms to the Middle East has risen by 61 percent over the past five years, despite grinding proxy wars in Libya, Syria and Yemen.
China, which boasts the second-largest arms-manufacturing industry in the world, attracted passersby with a “Fire Dragon” lifesized ballistic missile.
Business manager Luo Haopeng remarked at state-owned Norinco that this year China had expanded its floor space. He declined to expand on his aspirations in the Middle East, where China has already sold armed drones to Iraq, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, apart from his company “serving” the Emirati ground forces.