Saudi Arabia is building a sophisticated security barrier ("Great Wall") to protect the country from invasion by the Islamic State militants.
The first phase of the 900 kilometers long barrier on the country’s northern frontier with Iraq was announced by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on January 2015.
The Saudi announcement comes amid the advance of the Islamic State group who has seized large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria. Expansion of the Islamic State could turn into an existential struggle for the Saudi regime, which many hardline Islamists see as decadent and corrupt.
The Islamic State regards the capture of Saudi Arabia, home to the “Two Holy Mosques” of Mecca and Medina, as a key goal. Further sparking dissent between Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State is the fact that Saudi forces have joined US-led air strikes against Islamic State positions in Syria. Saudi Arabia’s oil fields are another key strategic goal for the terror group intent on creating a Sharia-run caliphate.
Saudi Arabia decided to up its defenses against a potential jihadist assault already in September 2014, but construction intensified after Islamic State militants raided a Saudi border post, killing three border guards including General Oudah al-Belawi, commander of border operations in Saudi Arabia’s northern zone.
The four raiders carried assault rifles, handguns and hand grenades. They shot at a border patrol near Arar and when security officers responded, one of the attackers detonated an explosives belt. The four Islamic State jihadist gunmen were killed in the attack and Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry has identified the four militants as Saudi nationals. On January 7, 2015, Saudi security forces launched a large-scale military operation in the Arar region and detained several terror suspects allegedly linked to the deadly border incident, three Saudis and four Syrians.
The Security Fence – The "Great Wall"
The barrier system will have five layers of fencing, complete with razor wire and a ditch and underground motion sensors that trigger a silent alarm. The barrier will be reinforced by watch towers, night-vision cameras and radar. Control complexes have been built in areas stretching from Hafr Al Batin in the northeast to Turaif near the Jordanian border.
The project will include eight command and control centers, 32 rapid response centers, three rapid intervention squads, 38 back and front gates, 78 monitoring towers, 10 monitoring and surveillance vehicles, 1,450,000 meters of fiber optics networks and 50 radars.
Saudi Arabia already deployed some 30,000 troops to its border with Iraq, after Iraqi forces abandoned their posts on their side of the border in July 2014.
The security barrier along the border with Iraq is part of a Saudi national strategic plan to protect the country's borders. The Saudi border security program, which was first discussed in 2006, came amid growing concern over Houthi rebellion in Yemen, domestic terror attacks of Al Qaeda and neighboring Iraq's deteriorating security situation.
In July 2009, Riyadh signed a deal with European aerospace and defense contractors EADS to build a high-tech security fence on 9,000 km of the country's borders.
The barrier on the border with Iraq is not the first one for Saudi Arabia. It already has a 1,800km barrier along its border with Yemen. And the ultimate plan is to have all of the country surrounded by a fence.
The Islamic State is now perhaps the world's best-funded and most formidable terror group and the countries around the region have good reason to worry what it does next. In January 2015, a commander and two guards on the Saudi-Iraq border were killed during an attack by Islamic State militants, the first direct ground assault by the group on the border. It was a response to the Saudi Arabian participation in air strikes against the Islamic State and a message that Saudi Arabia is a high priority target for the group.
Many of the Islamic State most violent fighters are believed to be Saudi nationals. Saudi jihadists who survive the fighting in Syria and Iraq may choose to either remain in Islamic State controlled territory or return home, radicalized and brutalized by the conflict. For the Saudi authorities, returning jihadists represent a potential domestic security threat if and when they do come back.
King Abdullah has ordered "all necessary measures to secure the kingdom from terrorist groups or others who might disturb the security of the homeland". Saudi Arabia is acquiring the best available state-of-the-art technologies for the "Great Wall" as it's being dubbed by some media outlets.
The main function of the barrier will be keeping out Islamic State militants, who have stated that among their goals is an eventual takeover of the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Saudi Arabia is a key member in the US-led coalition against the Islamic State and the defensive measures are critical to protect the kingdom from the Islamic State militants that has stated that among their key goals is an eventual takeover of the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina.