Saudi Arabia is starting to look a lot like south Texas, and it’s not just the oil derricks.
The Saudis are pumping $5 billion into a border fence to keep out illegal immigrants and potential terrorists, with a significant portion going to seal off the Iraqi border.
Plans call for a 550-mile fence between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, bolstered by an electronic fence along the Red Sea to separate the Saudi sheiks from neighboring Jordan and Yemen.
As the controversy over U.S. efforts to fence off its border with Mexico continues to percolate, the Saudi fence is getting little media attention.
Termed the “MIKSA” project, the overall plan also calls for an extensive telecommunications network, 225 radar installations and 400 border posts housing 20,000 troops, according to Middle East News.
Security experts say the fence has taken on new urgency in Saudi Arabia amid fears that U.S. peacekeeping efforts in Iraq will fail, resulting in regional chaos and an expansion of terrorism.
Saudi officials deny such concerns.
“This is not an anti-terrorism project,” a top Saudi security official tells Newsmax. “This is an anti-illegal immigration project.”
The official, who spoke exclusively to Newsmax on condition of anonymity, said Saudi Arabia is second only to the U.S. as a destination for illegal aliens.
Some 4 million illegal immigrants from Arab, Asian and African countries have been drawn to Saudi Arabia by its high standard of living and unrest in their home countries. Saudi Arabia absorbs up to 400,000 illegal immigrants each year.
“We also are concerned that the situation in Iraq may worsen and dissolve into further war, which would leave us dealing with a lot of refugees,” the security official tells Newsmax. “The U.S. is doing a very similar project on the border with Mexico. Ours is much more comprehensive, because we are blocking the entire border.”
Bids already have been submitted by 14 construction companies, including U.S. companies such as Raytheon, for the first phase of the construction – separating Saudi Arabia from Iraq.
Ironically, one of the firms invited to bid on the project was the Saudi Bin Laden Group, a company controlled by the family of Osama Bin Laden, according to published reports.
The cost of the Saudi Arabia – Iraq segment, the official noted, is estimated at around $1.5 billion.
“This project was supposed to have happened 10 years ago, but we didn’t have the budget,” the Saudi official says.
The Saudi border fence should prove much more formidable than its U.S. counterpart.
Anyone wanting to slip illegally into Saudi Arabia would be forced to: climb a series of high sand berms; scale a high fence girded with razor wire on top and bottom; creep along a 50-yard stretch of no-man’s land; clamber over a barbed-wire pyramid; cross another open 50 yards; and shinny over a second barbed-wired fence all while avoiding detection by ultraviolet sensors, night vision cameras, buried movement sensors and patrol dogs.
Command posts topped with helipads make quick troop response to any intrusion easy.
The only legitimate way through will be by 135 electronically controlled gates, in effect, turning the entire country into a gated community, or a prison, depending on your perspective.
The fence will replace the currently existing 6.2-mile stretch of patrolled security zone, backed up by only a 20-foot high berm of sand.
The remainder of the fencing will eat up the rest of the $5 billion budget, comprising virtual electronic fencing and sensors between Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Yemen. Increased radar facilities and aircraft will further strengthen the Red Sea border.
“We expect to start building in the first quarter of next year and hoping to have the project finished by the end of 2008 to early 2009,” the official tells Newsmax.
Two years ago, Nawaf Obaid, director of the Saudi National Security Assessment Project, told the London Telegraph, “The feeling in Saudi is that Iraq is way out of control with no possibility of stability. The urgency now is to get that border sealed; physically sealed.
“If and when Iraq fragments, there’s going to be a lot of people heading south and that is when we have to be prepared.”
Saudi sentiments apparently have changed since then, at least for public consumption. Inside Saudi Arabia, al-Qaida is on the run from Saudi military, but the threat of new terrorist entry from Iraq and Yemen, experts note, certainly is part of the concern fueling Saudi Arabia’s rapid progress in building the fence.
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