Saudi Arabia is moving forward with a plan to completely seal off its border with Yemen by building a 900 km fence, after years of attacks on energy infrastructure in the kingdom and a bitter war with Iranian-backed Houthi insurgents.
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According to official documents seen by S&P Global Commodity Insights, the kingdom is seeking a company to manage the gigantic infrastructure project, which will include helipads, security towers and radar equipment, communications and extensive supporting road networks. The so-called Southern Border Protection scheme will eventually completely seal off the kingdom's border with Yemen.
Saudi Arabia's oil and energy infrastructure, especially close to its land borders with Yemen, has been extensively targeted over the last five years. Attacks in the kingdom account for 49% of 95 incidents recorded by the S&P Global Energy Security Sentinel project since 2018.
Plans to build a fence separating the countries and extending as far east as Oman first emerged in 2003 but progress has been hampered by tribal border disputes and the dangerous security situation caused by successive conflicts in the area.
Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Interior did not respond to a request for comment.
Progress on the Southern Border Protection project comes as tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran ease following the restoration of diplomatic relations. Riyadh and Tehran agreed this month to normalize relations in a move which could dramatically improve energy security in the region. Attacks, which peaked in 2020 and 2021, dropped off entirely in the first quarter of this year, according to S&P Global research.
Despite improving relations with Iran there are no guarantees Saudi Arabia will seek to end military operations in Yemen. Tehran has previously been accused by the kingdom of arming Houthi militias and supplying drone technology used in attacks on energy infrastructure. A ceasefire on the border has held since April 2022 despite failure to renew the deal in October.
Progress on the security fence project comes as the US Navy's 5th Fleet -- headquartered in Bahrain -- has stepped up surveillance of the waters surrounding the Arabian Peninsula, including an unmanned surface vessel fleet.
Eventually, the aim is to establish an unmanned surface vessel fleet of 100 platforms by the end of the summer to monitor some 5,000 miles around the region, with about half now available for deployment, according to the report.
A similar program, called Task Force 99, is based in Qatar and monitors air traffic through aerial drones, while a land-based unit called Task Force 39 maintains a fleet of unmanned ground vehicles.