UAE announces Middle East defense giant in the wake of Aramco attacks

The effective ruler of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced Tuesday that 25 government-owned and independent companies are to combine to create one of the Middle East’s biggest defense groups.

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who also acts as deputy supreme commander of the armed forces, announced combining the 25 firms to create a new conglomerate titled Edge.

The man selected to run Edge as both chief executive and managing director is Faisal Al Bannai, who was formerly a managing director at UAE cybersecurity company DarkMatter. Edge will combine 22 private firms with the government-owned Emirates Defence Industries Company, the Emirates Advanced Investments Group and Tawazun Holding. It’s estimated that 12,000 people will be employed under the defense giant.

In mid-September, 25 drones and missiles were used in a pre-dawn attack on Saudi Aramco facilities that forced neighboring Saudi Arabia to shut down half of the country’s oil production. Riyadh and Washington blame Iran for the attacks, which Tehran denies.

Speaking to CNBC’s Emma Graham in Abu Dhabi Tuesday, Al Bannai said the formation of a defense behemoth — which will look to focus on cyberattacks and repelling military drones — was not formed as a direct reaction to the Aramco attacks.

“Not really. These things come and go. We have always lived in an interesting neighborhood in that regard,” said Al Bannai.

The new leader of Edge conceded that the company would look to help the UAE military in the region quickly get both the software and hardware that is needed to repel local threats.

The chief executive added that the conglomerate would look to bring non-lethal weapons such as frequency jammers and electro-magnetic systems under the same umbrella as radar technology and missile manufacture.

Al Bannai, who was also the founder of Axiom Telecom, said the objectives of Edge were to both ensure the UAE had a sovereign ability to protect itself as well as develop its knowledge economy for “when the last barrel of oil runs out.”

Saudi cooperation

In early October, Al-Nahyan and Saudi Vice Minister of Defense, Prince Khalid bin Salman, met to discuss military and defense co-operation. Emirates news agency WAM reported the meeting as necessary to confront “challenges facing the Gulf Arab region and repercussions on the stability and security of its countries.”

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are already partners in a coalition battling against Iranian-funded Houthis in Yemen.