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Satellite images appear to show Saudi Arabia working on ballistic missile program

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman walks with Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa during a major investment conference in Riyadh, in a photo provided by the Saudi palace on October 24, 2018
Bandar AL-JALOUD (Saudi Royal Palace/AFP)

Newly analyzed satellite imagery may suggest that Saudi Arabia is advancing its ballistic missile development at a suspected testing facility in the country’s center.

Experts at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in northern California reviewed satellite images taken by Planet Labs Inc. at the end of last year and found evidence that Saudi Arabia may be manufacturing technologies it has consistently criticized its enemy Iran for developing.

Last year, the Kingdom’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, said that his government would respond in kind to Iran’s brazen development of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to targets across the world.

The images and corresponding findings of experts were originally published in the Washington Post.

Jeffrey Lewis, one of the experts from Middlebury who discovered the purpose of the base, reportedly said the United States may be “underestimating” Saudi nuclear ambitions.

The military base - first discovered in 2013 by Jane’s Defense Weekly - is located about 145 miles west of the capital Riyadh.

Another expert from Washington’s International Institute for Strategic Studies confirmed Lewis’ findings, saying the facilities appear large enough both build and fuel ballistic missiles.

According to Lewis, the suspected rocket-engine test stand at the Saudi base closely resembles Chinese design, raising the question of where Riyadh learned how to develop the facilities.

China and Saudi Arabia have an increasingly strong relationship, particularly in regards to arms sales.

“I have never heard of such a thing as China helping Saudi Arabia to build a missile base,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told the Associated Press when asked for comment on the images.

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