RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, March 8 (UPI) -- Saudi Arabia surpassed India as the world's largest defense importer, according to figures released by a global arms trade analyst.
The kingdom spent $6.5 billion on defense imports in 2014 -- a 54 percent increase from 2013 spending levels -- compared with India's $5.8 billion. That figure is expected to go up 52 percent in 2015, putting Saudi arms imports at nearly $10 billion, according to Ben Moores, senior defense analyst at IHS Inc.
"It may be a way of tempering that rapprochement with Iran," David Cortright, director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, told i24 News. "You can think of it as ... deepening ties in a time of uncertainty, as a possibly greater role with Iran looms on the horizon."
Talks between the United States and Iran, aimed at restraining Iran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions, have caused tension among U.S. allies in the region. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the U.S. Congress earlier this month denouncing the deal as a threat to Israel.
The Sunni Muslim Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is often seen as a counterweight in the region against Shia Iran. Saudi Arabia is also allied with the United States in the international bombing campaign against the Islamic State, known as Operation Inherent Resolve.
Saudi Arabia holds 25 percent of the world's oil reserves and is capable of producing 10 million barrels a day. Its 2013 defense budget was $59.6 billion, or $2,100 per person in a country of 28.3 million people.
Overall, military arms imports worldwide rose from $56 billion to $64.4 billion in 2014.