Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is forcing its enemies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, to also consider acquiring them to counter the threat. A Middle East nuclear arms race will soon begin that could quickly spiral out of country and spread beyond the region.
Arnaud de Borchgrave has brought attention to a significant statement by Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former chief of Saudi intelligence, at the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies. He called on the Gulf Cooperation Council, which consists of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, to create a united army and to begin “acquiring the nuclear might to face that of Iran.” This is the first time that an influential member of the Saudi Royal Family has called for beginning a nuclear weapons program, which is undoubtedly what he was referring to.
It has been long rumored that Saudi Arabia agreed to finance the Pakistani nuclear weapons program in return for a guarantee that weapons and delivery systems would be provided if the need arose. A 2003 report gave credence to these rumors, alleging that the Saudis agreed to give the Pakistanis cheap oil in return for access to their nuclear technology. Notably, in 1999, Prince Sultan Bin Abdul-Aziz visited Pakistan’s uranium enrichment and missile factory at Kahuta, as did officials from the United Arab Emirates on a separate trip.
According to GlobalSecurity.org, the Saudis have the necessary infrastructure to quickly start-up a nuclear weapons program. “While there is no direct evidence that Saudi Arabia has chosen a nuclear option, the Saudis have in place a foundation for building a nuclear deterrent,” it says. In 2006, the International Atomic Energy Agency revealed that several Arab countries were expressing an interest in a domestic nuclear energy program; the oft-used front for working on weapons. These countries included Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Egypt—all enemies of Iran. Jordan has also begun a nuclear program and has sought help from the Obama Administration in developing it.
It is unclear who will lead Egypt after elections are held in September, but the Mubarak regime was not shy about telling U.S. officials off-the-record that it was ready to develop nuclear weapons if Iran is not stopped. One cable released by Wikileaks from May 2008 stated that “Mubarak said that Egypt might be forced to begin its own nuclear weapons program if Iran succeeds in those efforts.” He also said in 2007, “We don’t want nuclear weapons in the area, but we are obligated to defend ourselves…We will have to have the appropriate weapons.”
Another contributing factor to the upcoming arms race is Iran’s desire to share its technology with its allies. Ayatollah Khamenei was in Khartoum when he said in 2006 that Iran would be willing to share its nuclear technology with Islamic countries. Sudan is now hoping to open a nuclear reactor by 2020 while President Bashir transforms it into a full-fledged Sharia-based state. Agents of Sudan have contacted those that belonged to the Abdul-Qadeer Khan nuclear trafficking ring, as have representatives of Iran, North Korea, Syria, Nigeria and Burma. A U.S. official said “they have propositioned them to get them to come out of retirement.”
Iran’s closest ally, Syria, also has a nuclear program and is likely to be a recipient of Iranian assistance. Its North Korean-designed nuclear reactor that was destroyed by Israel in September 2007 would have been able to make enough plutonium for one or two nuclear bombs per year once fully operational. The Syrian government continues to obstruct the IAEA’s investigation into the purpose of the site and has not provided an adequate explanation for traces of uranium discovered by the agency. Last month, Syria finally agreed to allow the IAEA to visit a fertilizer plant in Homs suspected of being connected to the nuclear program but access is still being denied to other sites. Another site has just been discovered near Damascus that is thought to be related to uranium conversion.
Another possible beneficiary of Iran’s nuclear weapons program is Venezuela. Hugo Chavez has been secretly assisting the Iranian nuclear program, openly discussing the possibility of opening up a “nuclear village” and signing deals related to uranium exploration. In November 2008, an Iranian government company was given permission to mine for gold in Venezuela in an area that also holds one of the largest deposits of uranium on the planet. An Israeli intelligence report alleges that Venezuela is already providing Iran with much-needed raw uranium. Hugo Chavez has talked openly about his desire to start his own “civilian” nuclear program. This would cause immense fear in countries threatened by him like Colombia that could result in a similar domino effect.
The nuclear arms race will even extend into Asia. North Korea is believed to be helping the Burmese junta pursue nuclear weapons and the country could provide Iran with uranium in return for nuclear technology. The Democratic Voice of Burma has obtained a pile of secret documents and photographs exposing the secret nuclear program that is believed to have cost Burma $3.5 billion since 2001. One Burmese defector claims he met with an Iranian nuclear scientist and intelligence officer in February 2004 to discuss transfers of uranium yellowcake. As with Venezuela, this development could also spark a regional nuclear arms race as neighbors like Thailand feel vulnerable.
The affects of a nuclear Iran are hard to fathom. Its Arab enemies are ready to develop, at the least, the capacity for nuclear break-out that enables them to quickly produce weapons. The Iranian regime is unlikely to hold its technology from its allies, broadening the nuclear arms race to other continents. If Iran acquires nuclear weapons or even the capacity to quickly produce them, it won’t change just the Middle East. It will change the world.