Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambitions: implications for regional security and Israeli concerns

By Arie Egozi

Israel is highly concerned about some of the Saudi conditions for a normalization agreement between the two countries. Riyadh also aims to achieve a NATO-like defence agreement with the U.S. This idea, according to Israeli sources, may create opposition in some European countries. The U.S. is actively brokering such a deal but is aware of the high price it will have to pay.

One of the Saudi conditions for the normalization of relations with Israel is American approval for a Saudi nuclear program for civil use. In addition, Riyadh wants the ability to buy more sophisticated weapons from Washington, such as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) antiballistic missile defence system, which could be used to counter Iran’s expanding missile arsenal. Some American conditions for such a program have been so far rejected by the Saudis.


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The Saudis are promoting a project to build a nuclear reactor to produce energy and recently announced that the main candidates for winning the project are a company from Russia, a company from China alongside a company from South Korea. American company Westinghouse was excluded from the competition, and that has raised concern in Washington.

What has so far undermined any talks between the Saudis and an American company are two American conditions: a Saudi commitment not to enrich uranium in its territory and signing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israeli sources related to the issue say that the Saudis have so far not been enthusiastic about these two conditions.

Israeli defence sources say that the Saudi nuclear program may evolve into a military nuclear race in the Gulf to counter the Iranian capability that at this point looks almost a solid fact. Israeli sources said that there are signs that Saudi Arabia is very serious about its nuclear intentions. Israeli defence sources say that there are signs that Saudi Arabia, understanding that the U.S. has withdrawn from the Gulf region, is seriously considering acquiring military nuclear capability to deter Iran from any aggression. This assessment is shared by many Israeli observers who are following the developments in the Gulf region.


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Saudi Arabia has had military capability aspirations in recent years, and now the developments in the Gulf region have turned them into an action plan. A report prepared by the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) by the two researchers Yoel Guzansky and Tomer Barak says that the Saudi understanding of the substantial military gaps and the depth of the threats it must cope with, along with the weakened American support and the shortened time to an Iranian military nuclear breakout, could accelerate the Saudi leadership’s thinking about advancing independent military nuclear capabilities as a new means of deterrence in the arsenal against Iranian activity.

“Saudi Arabia’s interest in the nuclear realm is not new, nor is the concern that under certain circumstances and conditions, Riyadh could pursue a military nuclear course. Senior leaders in the kingdom have referred to the issue on more than one occasion and have stated that the kingdom will acquire nuclear capability if Iran does so and that the kingdom seeks control over all of the components of the nuclear fuel cycle.”



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