Greece delivered a battery of Patriot anti-aircraft missiles to Saudi Arabia as well as 120 soldiers to work the weapons system, the Hellenic National Defence General Staff announced on Tuesday.
In the morning a ceremony took place at Tanagra air base north of Athens, where the anti-missile systems were lined up next to the soldiers for transport to the Saudi kingdom.
Chief of General Staff, General Konstantinos Floros said in a Twitter post that the mission of the Greek forces is to maintain peace and stability especially in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.
114 Πτέρυγα Μάχης
Τελετή Αναχώρησης Πυροβολαρχίας PATRIOT.
— GEN Konstantinos Floros (@ChiefHNDGS) September 14, 2021
The missiles will reportedly remain in the country for an undetermined period of time, and will be used to strengthen Saudi air defenses. It comes after the US removed most of its Patriot missile batteries from the kingdom.
Patriot dispatch a “step forward” in Greece-Saudi cooperation
The deal to provide Saudi Arabia with the missile batteries was signed in April, and hailed as a step forward in Greek-Gulf cooperation.
Athens will deploy the Patriot missiles, which the Saudis will pay for, “to protect critical energy infrastructure,” government spokesman at the time Stelios Petsas told reporters.
“This is a big step forward for our country regarding the cooperation with the Gulf countries and also a contribution to the wider security of the energy sources for the West,” Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said.
When the delivery of Patriot missiles systems was first announced by Greece, Dendias was quick to highlight the defensive nature of the weapons systems.
“But the Patriot missiles are not offensive weapons; they are defensive weapons. They are not directed against anyone. They defend one’s airspace,” Dendias said.
The Greek delivery was a response to the drone attacks of September 2019, which targeted refineries at Saudi Arabia’s public oil company Aramco.
Background of the Greece – Saudi Arabia deal
Talks about the provision of an air defense system by Athens to Riyad started in October 2019, following the Yemeni strike on state-owned company Aramco in Saudi Arabia on September 14.
The Patriot missile is considered to be one of the best anti-missile systems in the world. Its radar can cover an area of up to 170 km, while it can engage targets in a range of up to 150 km.
In February 2021, Minister Dendias revealed that the two countries may be close to signing a Status of Forces Agreement that will allow Greek military personnel to be stationed in Saudi Arabia for as long as the Patriot battery remains in the kingdom.
In his statements, he insisted that the Patriot is a defensive system, not an offensive one. “Just to be clear,” he added. “Greece does not project aggressive power anywhere.”
The Patriot’s transport and the enhancement of bilateral defense ties with his Saudi counterpart had been already discussed when Prince Faisal bin Farhan visited Athens in January 2020.
Greece’s contribution of the Patriot systems is the latest sign of growing cooperation between Athens and Riyadh.
In March, the Saudi Royal Air Force sent F-15 fighter jets to the Greek island of Crete, where they took part in the Eye of Falcon 1 exercises, over the Mediterranean Sea.
Furthermore, Greece has sought to expand its cooperation with the UAE, which deployed fighter jets to Crete in August 2020.