Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman received royal treatment from the Greek government on his visit to Athens at the end of July – his first to a European Union capital since the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khasshogi.
The government laid on 350 limousines for his 700-strong entourage that accompanied him to Athens in a fleet of six aircraft; a seventh aircraft serves as a hospital for the exclusive use of the crown prince.
The Greek newspaper Iefemirida reported that 185 bodyguards came with the Saudi royal, 70 of whom were deployed to check cars and the routes their employer would take in Athens.
It said the crown prince who was afraid of being poisoned would only eat at his hotel, the Four Seasons in Vouliagmeni. The only exception was for the Head of State dinner at the Acropolis Museum on 26 July.
The newspaper said that bulletproof glass panes were installed at his hotel suite using a giant crane.
Some of the limousines supplied for the entourage had to be specially brought in from Germany and Bulgaria.
On 2 October, 2018, Mr Khashoggi, a Saudi-born dissident journalist, was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by Saudi government agents. Subsequent investigations by the media and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) linked the killing to the crown prince.
No mention of Khassoghi was made during the Athens visit that included the signing of 17 bilateral agreements at the Acropolis Museum. The agreements incorporated the energy, defence, food and cultural sectors, with one agreement alone, for an underwater data cable system, worth $1 billion.
Iefimerida reported that during the visit, a defence-related cooperation agreement was reached for the joint production of the Mikron night-vision instrument that was reached between Theon Sensors SA, the Greek manufacturer of night-vision and thermal-imaging systems, and Saudi Arabia’s National Company for Mechanical Systems.
The two companies have taken on two orders worth €80 million over the next four years.
The Guardian newspaper quoted Greece’ s Minister of Development and Investment Adonis Georgiadis as saying of the agreement signings that: “This has never happened before. We have never signed a Memorandum of Understanding with any other country in the world in the Acropolis Museum and this is a gesture from our government, from our Prime Minister to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to show how we feel that you are something very exceptional to us.”
The Saudi Crown Prince travelled on to France on 28 July where he was welcomed by President Emmanuel Macron.
The fact that no mention was made of the murdered journalist during crown prince’s European visit has to be viewed in the context of the EU’s need to find alternatives to Russian fuel that was exempted from the sanctions it imposed following that country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Assistant Professor Andreas Krieg of the Defence Studies Department of King’s College London told Middle East Eye that the large entourage and lavish spending on vehicles and hotel accommodation showed that Mohammed bin Salman was now travelling as “the King of Arabia not just the Crown Prince”.