Friday, May 8, 2015

The Saudis Have Learned to Love the Bomb

File:Atomic Explosion over Hiroshima.jpg
Atomic explosion over Hiroshima

The Wall Street Journal reports that Saudi Arabia is seriously (perhaps "earnestly" is a better choice of word) considering obtaining nuclear weapons to offset Iran. From the article:
While Saudi Arabia has long advocated a nuclear-free Middle East, its leaders are doubtful that the completed accord on limiting Tehran’s nuclear program will stop Iran from becoming a threshold nuclear-weapons power when proposed restrictions on is number of centrifuges and uranium stockpiles expire in 10 years. They also aren’t willing to bet that the regime in Tehran will somehow become more moderate and responsible by then, a hope entertained by many in the West.

“We prefer a region without nuclear weapons. But if Iran does it, nothing can prevent us from doing it too, not even the international community,” said Abdullah al Askar, a member and former chairman of the foreign affairs committee of Saudi Arabia’s advisory legislature.

“Our leaders will never allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon while we don’t,” added Ibrahim al-Marie, a retired Saudi colonel and a security analyst in Riyadh. “If Iran declares a nuclear weapon, we can’t afford to wait 30 years more for our own—we should be able to declare ours within a week.”

Part of the reason for this sense of urgency is that Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Arab allies are increasingly battling mainly Shiite Iran in proxy conflicts across the region, from Syria to Yemen.

Besides their fears of a nuclear Iran dominating the Middle East one day, they are fretting that the agreement would dramatically tilt the regional balance of power in Tehran’s favor already in the immediate future, especially once the removal of international sanctions revitalizes the Iranian economy and gives it access to more than $100 billion in frozen overseas assets. They also increasingly distrust the U.S., the traditional guarantor of Gulf security.

“Our allies aren’t listening to us, and this is what is making us extremely nervous,” said Prince Faisal bin Saud bin Abdulmohsen, a scholar at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in the Saudi capital.
(Underline added). Saudi Arabia had been looking to Pakistan for some support, but have been rebuffed. The article notes, in this regard, that:
Saudi officials have long believed they have the semblance of a nuclear umbrella provided by Pakistan, a fellow Sunni nation whose own nuclear weapons program was launched decades ago with generous Saudi help. Pakistan, however, stung Saudi decision makers by proclaiming last month its neutrality in Saudi Arabia’s war against pro-Iranian Houthi militias in Yemen, giving calls for an independent nuclear capability fresh gravity.

Saudi Arabia has already launched a civilian nuclear program, signing agreements this year on technology sharing and training with South Korea and France. Unlike the United Arab Emirates, which embraced so-called gold standard terms under which it agreed not to enrich uranium on its soil, Saudi Arabia has resisted U.S. pressure to do so and is leaving its enrichment option open. In addition to Pakistan, the only regional country with an existing nuclear arsenal is believed to be Israel, which refuses either to confirm or deny its nuclear status.

Asked how Riyadh would respond to Iran getting closer to the nuclear threshold, Saudi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Aseeri said that, while Saudi Arabia wants to see a nuclear-free region, “we must protect our interests in a suitable fashion.”

The kingdom’s current plan calls for creating 17.6 gigawatts of nuclear power capacity by 2032, according to KACARE, the nuclear and renewable energy program that was established in 2010. No reactors have been built so far.

Olli Heinonen, former deputy director-general and head of the safeguards department at the International Atomic Energy Agency, estimated that it takes 10 years to develop enough industrial and technical capacity for a nuclear weapons program.
The article goes on to observe that Jordan has large uranium reserves, although they are currently undeveloped, but that the Saudis may turn to Jordan for its uranium.

And its not just Saudi Arabia that is planning on getting nuclear weapons to counter Iran in the face of weak American resolve. Hot Air reports that Turkey also has intentions of developing or obtaining nuclear weapons. 

I can't sum up this disaster any better than the conclusion from this UPI article: "The U.S. deal with Iran, if it slows Iran's quest for the nuclear weapons it denied seeking, could prove to be the highlight of U.S. President Barack Obama's nuclear non-proliferation legacy. It could also set off an arms race in the Middle East."

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