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Saudi Arabia Table of Contents

Saudi Arabia

World War II and Its Aftermath

Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Saudi Arabia was on good terms with the Axis powers, concluding an arms agreement with Nazi Germany on the eve of the war. Abd al Aziz maintained formal neutrality during most of the war, gradually leaning toward the Allied side. In early 1945, he abandoned his neutral posture and made a nominal declaration of war against Germany. The outbreak of the war and attendant shipping dangers had brought Saudi Arabian oil sales to a halt. As Allied needs for oil rose, the safeguarding of the Saudi oil reserves began to be regarded as of great strategic importance. In 1943 President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that the defense of Saudi Arabia was of vital interest to the United States, thus making the kingdom eligible for Lend-Lease assistance. By the end of World War II, British power and influence in Arab affairs had begun to wane, and during the late 1940s and early 1950s the United States emerged as the dominant Western power on the Arabian Peninsula.

Abd al Aziz was instrumental in forming the League of Arab States (Arab League) in 1945, and in 1948 he sent a token battalion of noncombatant troops to participate in the first Arab-Israeli war. Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, after leading the coup that deposed King Faruk in 1952, had become a spokesman for republicanism among the Arabs, vying for power and influence with the Arab monarchs. Nasser's broadcasts against the royal regimes and his calls for nationalist revolutions grew more inflammatory after Egypt's war over the Suez Canal with Israel, France, and Britain in 1956. Saud ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud, who became king after Abd al Aziz's death in 1953, was associated with a clumsy plot to assassinate Nasser. This embarrassing episode, plus Saud's extravagance and lack of leadership qualities, compelled him to turn over executive power to his brother, Faisal, in 1958 (see The Reigns of Saud and Faisal, 1953-75 , ch. 1). Faisal, who would become king six years later, dedicated himself to the development of a modern military force to protect the monarchy.

Egyptian intervention in the civil war of neighboring Yemen in 1962 provided ample proof of the need for reliable Saudi armed forces. An army coup against Imam Muhammad al Badr in Yemen triggered a civil war that was not resolved until 1967. The insurgents were supported by Nasser, who committed a large expeditionary force of Egyptian troops to the conflict. Imam Badr fled north, rallying loyal tribes and seeking support from Saudi Arabia. Within a short time, the royalist supporters of Imam Badr were engaged in combat against the insurgents, who established the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY--South Yemen). Saudi troops were deployed to the border, and the royalist guerrillas were given supplies and safe havens.

In November 1963, Egyptian aircraft overflew Saudi territory, dropping bombs on border villages. At the request of Saudi Arabia, the United States dispatched a squadron of F-100 jet fighters to the kingdom. Faced with this show of force and unity, the Egyptians backed off. Nevertheless, the presence of Egyptian military on the peninsula convinced Faisal of the need to upgrade the Saudi armed forces still further with United States and British assistance.

During the June 1967 War against Israel, Faisal sent a Saudi brigade to Jordan to bolster King Hussein's war effort. The brigade was still in Jordan at the time of the October 1973 War launched by Egypt and Syria against Israel. When war broke out, Faisal dispatched another brigade to Syria to lend support to the Syrian army. Neither of the Saudi brigades was involved in combat.

Data as of December 1992