Saudi Arabia: Yanbu attack revives coastal protection issue

It is as yet unclear who masterminded last week’s attack against Asea Brown Boveri facilities in Yanbu, causing panic among western expatriates and prompting many to leave the Kingdom. But what is clear is that the attack has made the Saudi authorities rethink their plans to maintain security in their cities on the Red Sea coast. Until the Yanbu attack, this part of the Kingdom appeared perfectly calm, no terrorist acts having been reported there previously.

For the first time since the beginning of the present wave of terrorist attacks in the Kingdom, Crown Prince Abdullah raised allegations of a ‘Zionist’ role in the Yanbu attack. Although it seems unlikely that the attackers were actually Israeli agents, the Saudi authorities seem to have found it politically expedient to link them to Israel, and the argument that terrorism, and islamist subversion generally, ‘objectively’ serve the interests of Israel may well be maintained and generalised for internal consumption.

Whether or not the Israelis were involved in the Yanbu attack, Saudi sources say that the Saudi authorities have intelligence reports pointing to increasing Israeli military-security activities in the Red Sea of late. In addition to the perceived Israeli threat, there is the factor of arms and drug smugglers who have their own activities in the Red Sea. Against this background, sources close to Crown Prince Abdullah say, a Saudi security committee had been keeping a close eye on the security situation in the Red Sea, but had not expected attacks of this nature in the area.

Before the Yanbu attack, the committee’s activities were quite routine. Since Yanbu, this can no longer be the case, with strict security measures being imposed on the Red Sea coast. This is to say that the Yanbu attack seems to have put the Saudi coastal protection issue on the table again. Although it is not clear how the attack affected this issue, the Saudis authorities seem to have begun giving more attention to their coast guard. In this context, Saudi sources say they are thinking of purchasing additional fast patrol boats and reinforcing their surveillance systems.

The same sources confirm that, whereas the Saudis had no imminent plans for the protection of their Red Sea coast before Yanbu, they now consider the matter to be urgent.  

The Saudis maintain at the moment that the restoration of stability and security requires them to seek out the best means of watching and protecting the Saudi coast, be it on the Persian Gulf or on the Red Sea, to go back to the idea of reinforcing and expanding the Saudi Navy’s role, and to reinforce aerial surveillance and reconnaissance.

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