Israel Should Be Wary of Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Ambitions

August 19, 2020 | Yoel Guzansky, Ephraim Asculai, Eyal Propper
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When the U.S. was negotiating the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, skeptics warned that it could lead to a rush among Middle Eastern regimes to acquire nuclear capabilities of their own. After all, if the international community recognized Tehran’s “right to enrich” uranium—and thus produce the fuel necessary for both military and civilian nuclear projects—on what grounds could it deny such a right to other nations? As predicted, Saudi Arabia has undertaken civilian nuclear projects, insisted to Washington that it should be allowed to enrich uranium, and now reportedly has constructed a uranium-refinement facility with Chinese help. Yoel Guzansky, Ephraim Asculai, and Eyal Propper examine the implications:

Saudi Arabia itself has ample resources and substantial uranium deposits [as well as] connections with various countries that are liable to share necessary nuclear knowledge and expertise with it, chief among them North Korea and Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia [also] has sufficient motivation for acquiring its own nuclear capability. Its motive for relying on the Chinese and others is rooted, inter alia, in its doubts about the reliability of American support. . . . Iran’s waning commitment to the [2015] agreement and the shortening of the time needed for an Iranian breakout to a nuclear weapon are liable to increase concern among the Saudi leadership, and to expedite its activity toward the acquisition of nuclear capability, including by way of shortcuts.

Israel cannot remain indifferent to accelerated nuclear developments in Saudi Arabia. It must improve the intelligence tools at its disposal to facilitate better knowledge about the kingdom’s nuclear-related activities. Despite its considerable shared interests with Saudi Arabia, Israel should also establish a professional dialogue in the matter with its partners in the United States and Europe and raise its concerns with China. In recent years, Israel has to a large extent turned a blind eye to the military buildup by a number of Gulf states—a buildup that erodes Israel’s qualitative military edge.

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