Large-Scale Weapons Show Spotlights Mideast Tensions

Published February 19, 2007

| Associated Press

Weapons dealers are cashing in on the political insecurities in the Persian Gulf as one of the world's largest arms shows continued Monday, displaying tanks, missiles, unmanned vehicles, and even warships.

The International Defense Exhibition in Abu Dhabi opened Saturday with stern words from Mark Kimmitt, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, who said an "increasingly belligerent Iran" believes it can "control, threaten and intimidate."

Gulf governments, awash with money from oil sales, have been spending big to refit their forces. They fear that the increasing tensions between Iran and United States could spill over to a wider regional conflict. Qatar, Bahrain, the Emirates, and Kuwait all host American military bases which would become prime targets in any regional war.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told air force commanders earlier this month that Iran will strike U.S. interests around the world if his country is attacked. In January, a newspaper close to the cleric warned that retaliation could include stopping oil traffic through the Gulf's strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Roughly two-fifths of all the world's traded oil passes through the strategic waterway, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Such a blockade would wreak havoc on the Arab economies of this region, which are based on oil exports, not to mention the global economy.

"The reason I'm here is because business is expanding in the Gulf Cooperation Council, it's an opportunity to enlarge," said Jong Kwan Park, vice president of overseas development at Dodaam Systems Ltd.

The South Korean firm sells high-tech unmanned automatic heavy machine guns, containing an array of sensors that wouldn't look out of place in any science fiction film.

The guns can be controlled from a command post miles away, or simply set to blast anything that moves. Park said his company targets GCC countries for sales because they have a lot of oil production facilities that could use their defense systems.

An exhibit for Doosnan Infracore, a privatize South Korean company, has an imposing display of their tank-like air defense gun.

"We think that the Gulf area is threatened with an unstable political situation, so they probably need a product useful for air defense," said a marketing manager for the company, Se Ihn Chang. "Gulf countries are already showing an interest."

If a standard "Hummer" doesn't suck up enough gas for you, weighing in at over 12,000 pounds is the Humvee, which boasts additional armor. American Armor Holdings upgrades the vehicles for the U.S. Military. The most recent innovation is toughened side paneling that includes glass that is .29-inch thick. It was added in response to attacks from improvised explosive devices in Iraq, and has already seen action on the battlefield.

There are "around 4,000 Humvees in the U.A.E. military. We're trying to entice them to upgrade," said Thomas Swaren, director of international military programs for Armor Holdings.

This is the eighth biannual defense exhibition to be held in the United Arab Emirates. IDEX organizers said the show will host over 90 official and military delegates from over 50 countries in its new state-of the-art exhibition center. The show — which is 37 percent larger than previous IDEX shows in terms of space —runs until February 22.

Some 862 exhibitors are plugging their wares, with Turkey claiming the largest amount of booked space. Other major players include the United States, China, South Korea, and Italy.

The show includes 29 live displays of heavy vehicles in action and live firing demonstrations. A fleet of 15 ships from seven countries will be hosted at the Mina Zayed port as part of the exhibition. The fleet includes two American vessels designed to defend against mines, and an Italian submarine.

The exhibition has already received high level defense officials from Italy and France, and the defense minister for Afghanistan, the Emirates official Web site said.

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