Evidence that Saudi Arabia has begun domestic manufacture of ballistic missiles using technology obtained from China, global news network CNN reported on Thursday, citing multiple sources and satellite images of what appears to be a production and testing site near the central town of Dawadmi.
According to CNN, multiple U.S. officials have been briefed on “classified intelligence revealing multiple large-scale transfers of sensitive ballistic missile technology between China and Saudi Arabia” which it said could potentially hinder efforts to convince Tehran to limit its own ballistic missile program.
Saudi Arabia and China are “comprehensive strategic partners” that have "maintained friendly cooperation in all fields, including in the field of military trade,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson told CNN.
“Such cooperation does not violate any international law and does not involve the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”
“The key piece of evidence is that the facility is operating a 'burn pit' to dispose of solid-propellant leftover from the production of ballistic missiles,” arms control expert Dr. Jeffrey Lewis told CNN, referring to images of the site taken by satellite imaging firm Planet.
“Casting rocket motors results in leftover propellant, which is an explosive hazard. Solid-propellant missile production facilities will often have burn-pits where leftover propellants can be disposed of. Burn operations are, therefore, a strong signature that the facility is actively casting solid rocket motors.”
CNN’s report comes only days after Iranian state television stated that the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps had fired ballistic and cruise missiles during war games in the Gulf, amid heightened tensions with the United States and Israel over possible Israeli plans to target Iranian nuclear sites.
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Iran says its ballistic missiles have a range of 2,000 km (1,200 miles) and are capable of reaching arch-foe Israel and U.S. bases in the region.
On Monday, Iran warned of a "crushing" response to any move against it by Israel, which opposes efforts by world powers to revive Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal and has long threatened military action if diplomacy fails to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear bomb. Iran says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.
Israel is widely believed to be the only Middle Eastern country with a nuclear arsenal.
The exercises also included the simultaneous firing of five cruise missiles and the launch of armed drones capable of hitting two targets each, Iranian media reported. The five-day drills began on Monday.