Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim, Commodore
Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
Amid the ongoing Iran’s nuclear issue debate, Saudi Arabia has taken a prominent position. Out of the blue, everybody has started discussions about the possibility of Saudi Arabia moving ahead to acquire nuclear weapons. Was it really out of the blue? Billion-dollar question is: Will Saudi Arabia strive to acquire nuclear weapons? And if so, then how long would it take the Saudis to plan and build nuclear reactors, enrich uranium and produce nuclear bomb(s)? Generally, this cumbersome process takes years for completion. So, why should the Saudis spend so much time in acquiring nuclear capability at a time when Israel is already an undeclared nuclear power and Iran inching closer to realize its nuclear dream with every passing day. Truth be told, at this stage it is difficult to say whether or not Iran possesses a nuclear weapon. There are mixed reports on this issue; some stating Tehran has already acquired nukes and some claim that it is far from accomplishing such a feat. Along with the entire world, Saudi Arabia has been witnessing the lengthy negotiations between the western powers and Iran with no clear signs of any positive outcome. Saudis, however, are very annoyed especially after the clear thaw in US-Iran relations. In short, if the West accepts seeing Iran becoming a nuclear power, then the Saudis will follow. As per reports circulating in the media, Saudi Arabia could upgrade its status from being a country with conventional weapons to a nuclear power within a relatively short span. And I am not sure how can the Saudis do it in a very short time but I guess it can be done. Saudi Arabia is not likely to wait for 10 years to acquire nuclear weapons. The negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 might result in an agreement but no matter what the outcome may be, Iran will pursue it ambition to become a nuclear power at a time when there is no threat to it from any of its neighboring countries. And the latest approach by the American administration toward Iran is not making it any easier for the Saudis. The Saudis said over and over again that the Iranian nuclear facilities are located very close to the Saudi eastern shores. Iran is still a country that is not technologically advanced enough to handle or control any radioactive leaks from its nuclear facilities in case of a mishap. It is true that Iran has many trained nuclear physicists but it is just not enough to handle a huge nuclear infrastructure. The Iranian Bushehr nuclear facility is located near active earthquake zone. It is true that Iran has a huge population and needs more electrical power so this is why Iran has to concentrate on building peaceful nuclear electricity generators but it should not continue in its quest for a nuclear bomb. Let us get real, who is Iran’s primary enemy in the area that makes it crucial for Iran to have a nuclear weapon? Tehran is not at war with any of the countries in the region. As a matter of fact, Iran is hostile to its neighbors. Nuclear facilities are a threat to the neighboring countries no matter how peaceful the projects may be. It would be pertinent to mention the threat issued by Norwegian scientists in view of the decaying Russian nuclear submarines and described them as “Chernobyl in slow motion.” The Russian nuclear threat to Northern Europe is a reality even though Russian submarines didn’t even fire a nuclear missile. The bottom line is that it is nice to see a Middle East without such a threat but if Iran reaches a deal allowing it to go ahead with its nuclear program, then the Saudis have the right to acquire their own nuclear deterrent capabilities. And last but not the least, the danger of nuclear weapons and nuclear facilities don’t differentiate between friend and foe. But when push comes to shove, the Saudis have the right to go to any extent to push back or deter any intruders. And now to close the discussion, various top political and military leaders visited the Kingdom in recent weeks. Many political and security analysts were alerted by the visit of South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye. South Korea is a country known for its peaceful nuclear technologies. And another visit that gained a lot of interest is the visit by Pakistani top political and military officials. Pakistan is the most important strategic Saudi ally. And it is no secret that Pakistan is already a member of the elite nuclear club. Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Pushing ME Into Nukes Race reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.