Saudi Arabia Doesn’t Need a Nuclear Program

March 8 2018

In 2012, Saudi Arabia announced its plan to build several nuclear reactors, claiming that these would be necessary to supply the country’s energy needs as part of a strategy to wean itself from its oil dependency. Although Riyadh has backed away from this proposal, there are still those who argue that the kingdom should, in cooperation with the U.S., build its own nuclear reactors and even begin enriching uranium. Washington, the reasoning goes, can’t say no to enrichment, since the 2015 nuclear deal grants Iran permission to do so. But Henry Sokolski is skeptical of these arguments:

[The] unspoken motive for the kingdom to pursue a nuclear program is to develop an option to make nuclear weapons, if needed, to deter Iran. . . . [The] Saudis don’t need nuclear power. In fact, recent studies found that the Saudis could more cheaply meet their energy and environmental requirements by developing their natural-gas resources and investing in renewables—photovoltaic, concentrated solar power, and wind. They also found economic value in upgrading the kingdom’s electrical grid and reducing subsidies that artificially drive up electrical demand. . . .

Supporters of the Saudi nuclear program argue that the kingdom should enrich, given the uranium reserves the Saudis have discovered. Uranium, however, is plentiful globally and priced at historic lows (less than $22 a pound), as are uranium-enrichment services. More importantly, the kingdom would have to spend billions on a variety of plants to enrich uranium and produce its own nuclear fuel. . . .

[However], proponents of a permissive U.S.-Saudi nuclear deal argue that Washington lacks the leverage to secure a Saudi pledge not to make enrich or reprocess. The best Washington can do, it is argued, is to ask Riyadh to defer such dangerous nuclear activities for several years. Some even suggest that acceding to Riyadh’s wishes is in Washington’s interest, since allowing the Saudis the capacity to make nuclear weapons-usable fuels might help “deter” Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. None of this seems sound. . . .

Besides the odd optics of looking like a version of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran (which President Trump says is “the worst deal ever”), allowing Riyadh to enrich and reprocess would immediately excite the humors of the UAE and Egypt. Both have U.S. nuclear-cooperation agreements that allow them to request that their agreements be modified if the United States offers any of their neighbors a more generous nuclear deal. Then there are Morocco and Turkey: their nuclear agreements with Washington are up for renewal in 2021 and 2023. They, too, are likely to ask for equal treatment as soon as possible. How this serves anyone’s long-term interest is, at best, unclear.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Read more at National Interest

More about: Iran, Nuclear proliferation, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war