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UAE-linked company in Serbia supplying weapons to Israel amid war on Gaza

Serbia’s state-owned weapons manufacturer which is selling arms to Israel has sealed lucrative arms deals with UAE
UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan being received by Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic at Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport, on 15 June 2023 (Ryan Carter/UAE's Ministry of Presidential Affairs/AFP)

Serbia’s state-owned weapons manufacturer, which was recently revealed to be selling millions of dollars in armaments to Israel, also has decades-old ties with the UAE.

According to a report by Balkan Insight, in 2024 Serbia’s main state-owned arms trader, Yugoimport-SDPR, exported at least $17.1m worth of weapons to Israel via Israeli military planes as well as civilian aircraft.

Serbia was a major arms supplier during the Cold War when it was still part of Yugoslavia. Despite its close ties to Russia, it has also been doing business selling ammunition to Ukraine valued at $858m, according to a recent Financial Times report. In 2021 Serbia’s arms exports were valued at around $1.2bn.

But Serbia’s arms interests also extend throughout the Middle East.

In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, cash-strapped Serbia sought billions in loans from the UAE in 2013. As it courted Emirati investment, it also pursued arms deals.

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In 2013, the two countries announced their first arms deal, which included Serbia agreeing to export armoured personnel carriers to the UAE and bilateral development of a guided surface-to-surface missile. At the time, the deal was valued at roughly $214m.

The UAE also made a substantial investment in Air Serbia, although the Serbian state is now set to take over the Emirati share of the state carrier.

Serbia has continued to work with the UAE on arms deals. In 2022, SDPR signed an agreement with UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan - when he was crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy commander of the UAE’s armed forces - to sell “a significant amount of ammunition” to the Gulf monarchy, according to a press release from the Serbian defence ministry.

War on Gaza: Serbia's arms sales to Israel put the country's political ties in the spotlight
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More recently, the UAE, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, has made new investments in Serbian tourism through a fund linked to Jared Kushner, former senior advisor and son-in-law of former US president, Donald Trump.

Serbia’s state-dominated arms industry also cut deals with Saudi Arabia. In 2018, Balkan Insight reported that Serbian arms maker, Krusik, which has close links to SDPR, sold 60, 80 and 120-millimetre calibre mines, along with grenades at steeply discounted prices, to a Saudi Arabian company.

Investigative journalism site, Arms Watch, later found that Serbian arms ended up in the hands of the Islamic State militant group in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE launched a bloody military offensive in Yemen against the Houthis after Yemen descended into civil war in 2014.

The Saudi and UAE-led coalition launched thousands of air strikes on Yemen which failed to dislodge the Houthis but resulted in thousands of civilian deaths and a major humanitarian crisis.

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