By Vivian Nereim
Saudi Arabia intends to spend more on defense than anything else next year as its war against Shiite rebels in neighboring Yemen shows no signs of abating.
In a budget announced hours after Saudi forces said they had intercepted a missile fired by the Houthis at Riyadh, the government set aside 210 billion riyals ($56 billion) for military spending in 2018. That’s more than the 192 billion riyals it pledged for education or the 147 billion riyals the kingdom intends to spend on health and social development. It’s only the third year Saudi Arabia has revealed what it spends on defense, but in 2017 and 2016, military spending came in a close second to education.
The missile fired on Tuesday, aimed at the palace where cabinet meetings are typically held, is the most audacious challenge to Saudi Arabia by Iran’s proxy in Yemen. The two Middle East rivals already support opposing sides in conflicts across the region, and after the rebels fired a missile at the international airport in Riyadh last month, the Saudi-led coalition warned that the failed attack could be considered “an act of war.”
Since Saudi Arabia entered the Yemen war, fighting has killed well over 5,000 civilians and contributed to one of the world’s biggest humanitarian disasters, according to the United Nations. Dozens of civilians have died this month in an intensified coalition campaign after the Houthis killed a former ally they accused of defecting to the Saudi side.
In Tuesday’s budget statement, King Salman trumpeted the biggest planned spending in Saudi history — 978 billion riyals, more than a fifth of it for the defense sector. Officials later said they would spend a total of 1.1 trillion riyals, including 83 billion from the Public Investment Fund and 50 billion riyals from national development funds.