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Did Saudi Arabia decide to obtain a nuclear weapon?

By Missing Peace
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, escort President Barack Obama to his meeting with Saudi King Abdullah at Rawdat Khuraim, Saudi Arabia, Friday, March 28, 2014. Rawdat Khuraim is a green oasis located 62 miles northwest of the capital city of Riyadh and King Abdullah's private desert encampment is located within Rawdat Khuraim. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, escort President Barack Obama to his meeting with Saudi King Abdullah at Rawdat Khuraim, Saudi Arabia, Friday, March 28, 2014. Rawdat Khuraim is a green oasis located 62 miles northwest of the capital city of Riyadh and King Abdullah’s private desert encampment is located within Rawdat Khuraim. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Last week the British newspaper The Independent and other international media reported that Saudi Arabia might have made the decision to purchase an “off the shelf” nuclear weapon from Pakistan.

The media reports were based on a Sunday Times report that quoted an anonymous U.S. official as saying, ”There has been a longstanding agreement in place with the Pakistanis (over nuclear weapons) and the House of Saud has now made the strategic decision to move forward.”

There were earlier reports about Saudi Arabia’s efforts to obtain an off-the-shelf nuclear weapon from Pakistan. In March, Western Journalism reported that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Saudi Arabia and reportedly discussed nuclear cooperation between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia:

Saudi Arabia is providing financial support for Pakistan’s nuclear program. It is widely assumed that, if needed, the regime in Islamabad will transfer nuclear technology or even warheads to Riyadh in return. On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia also signed a nuclear deal with President Park of South Korea. South Korea will build two nuclear reactors in the Kingdom.

Israeli media reported on Sunday that Saudi Arabia has now become the world’s largest arms importer, surpassing India. Spending on arms by the Kingdom has risen to $6.5 billion, rising 54 percent in comparison with last year. Weapon imports are expected to rise to $9.8 billion this year.

These figures show that Saudi Arabia – just like Israel – is extremely concerned that a possible deal on Iran’s nuclear program could cause a geopolitical shift in the Middle East.

Sharif’s visit to Riyadh came after Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Rashid Mahmoud attended a series of top-level meetings with Saudi leaders about nuclear cooperation at the beginning of February. Business Insider reported at the time that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan could have renewed a secret nuclear weapons pact during Mahmoud’s visit and an earlier visit by PM Sharif at the end of January.

Saudi Arabia’s current drive to obtain a nuclear weapon is connected to Iran’s nuclear weapons program and aggressive politics in the region; but the apparent urgency in this drive was triggered by direct threatsto the Kingdom made by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on January 15th of this year.

Khamenei published an article on his website in which he threatened to respond to Saudi Arabia’s policy of bringing down oil prices — “A blow with a blow.” Khamenei claimed that Iran had approval to act against Saudi Arabia. He meant that Iran would be able to control all the arteries for oil transport in the Persian Gulf, from the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait to the Suez Canal and the Strait of Hormuz. Two days later, Khamenei repeated the same threat on his Twitter account.

At the same time, the Mehr News Agency in Iran – which is controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard – published an article in which it hinted at an imminent Shiite uprising against the Al-Saud regime in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Bahrain.

Since then, Saudi Arabia has acted upon the Iranian threats.

The regime in Riyadh organized a coalition against the Iran-backed Houthi takeover of Yemen and started an aerial campaign to stop the Houthi advances. The coalition has also prevented Iran from delivering weapons and other aid to the Houthis in Yemen, but this seems not to have influenced the immediate threat to Saudi Arabia.

On May 1st, Houthi forces launched a large scale cross-border attack on the Kingdom. It was the largest attack on Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the air campaign against the Houthi rebellion. The Houthis were repelled by a combination of Saudi ground troops and airstrikes.

On the nuclear front, a similar thing might have happened. Since it became clear that the Saudis backed Israel’s PM Netanyahu’s criticism of the emerging nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, Saudi Arabia has shown that it no longer relies on the United States to protect its vital interests.

On April 29th, former Saudi Intelligence Minister Turki Al Faisal told a conference in Seoul that the Kingdom will match Iran’s nuclear capabilities with its own. “Whatever the Iranians have, we will have, too,” he declared. The prince also accused President Obama of going “behind the backs of the traditional allies to strike the deal.”

Two weeks later, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman snubbed Obama when he decided not to attend his Camp David conference about regional security. The king of Bahrain followed suit, preferring instead to attend a horse show with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.

This could signal that Saudi Arabia has indeed decided the time has come to make good on the late King Abdullah’s promise to U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross about Iran’s nuclear progress: “If they get nuclear weapons, we will get nuclear weapons.”