Saudi Arabia Considers Nuclear Weapons to Offset Iran
The nuclear deal that the U.S. and other world powers hope to reach with Iran would put a 10-year curb on the Islamic republic’s nuclear program. For some of Iran’s regional rivals, that is also becoming a deadline for developing nuclear arms of their own. In Saudi Arabia, there are widespread public calls to match Iran’s nuclear quest. The two other Middle East heavyweights, Turkey and Egypt, could also feel compelled to follow suit, senior Western and Arab officials warn.
While Saudi Arabia has long advocated a nuclear-free Middle East, its leaders are doubtful that the completed accord on limiting Tehran’s nuclear program will stop Iran from becoming a threshold nuclear-weapons power when proposed restrictions on is number of centrifuges and uranium stockpiles expire in 10 years. They also aren’t willing to bet that the regime in Tehran will somehow become more moderate and responsible by then, a hope entertained by many in the West.
“We prefer a region without nuclear weapons. But if Iran does it, nothing can prevent us from doing it too, not even the international community,” said Abdullah al Askar, a member and former chairman of the foreign affairs committee of Saudi Arabia’s advisory legislature.
“Our leaders will never allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon while we don’t,” added Ibrahim al-Marie, a retired Saudi colonel and a security analyst in Riyadh. “If Iran declares a nuclear weapon, we can’t afford to wait 30 years more for our own—we should be able to declare ours within a week.”
Part of the reason for this sense of urgency is that Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Arab allies are increasingly battling mainly Shiite Iran in proxy conflicts across the region, from Syria to Yemen.
Besides their fears of a nuclear Iran dominating the Middle East one day, they are fretting that the agreement would dramatically tilt the regional balance of power in Tehran’s favor already in the immediate future, especially once the removal of international sanctions revitalizes the Iranian economy and gives it access to more than $100 billion in frozen overseas assets. They also increasingly distrust the U.S., the traditional guarantor of Gulf security.
If Iran became a nuclear power, it would spark an arms race throughout the Middle East as its neighbors (ex. Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Algeria) struggle to counter-balance against it by developing their own arsenals or building up their conventional forces.