The Intell Blog

A Nuclear Saudi Arabia?

By now, almost everybody knows the Iran nuclear talks collapsed. While France and Saudi Arabia played a key role in that outcome, it’s the French, who are being celebrated as the heroes of this geopolitical saga.

Senator John McCain tweeted “Vive La France” and said that “France had the courage to prevent a bad nuclear agreement with Iran.” Republican Lindsay Graham thanked France live on TV:  “Thank God for France and thank God for push back,” and later declared “The French are becoming very good leaders in the Mideast.”  Funny. You should have seen these two back in 2003.

However, it’s not France’s foreign policy the one that’s catching my eye. It’s the Saudis’ the one that’s intriguing me. And let’s start reviewing the events that took place in October during the soap opera that was the US government shutdown.

Via Gulf News

Last week was a week to remember in the testy relationship between the Gulf states and the US. I was in Washington and witnessed the drama unfold live; something is amiss nowadays, between the US and its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

We see a non-committal, wavering, fatigued US. A dysfunctional and stalemated Washington, which is worrying its allies, not only over security and strategic issues, but even financially, since most of US allies’ sovereign wealth funds are being invested in US Treasury Bills and stocks.

For instance, most of the GCC assets, including the Saudi central bank’s net foreign assets of $690 billion (Dh2.53 trillion) are thought to be denominated in dollars, much of them in US Treasury bonds.

We see unprecedented anger and chastising of Washington by some of its long time staunch and reliable allies. For the first time, in years the dispute and differences with Washington are out in the open. Adjectives describing the US policy in the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf like ‘weak’, ‘wavering’, ‘dithering’, ‘naïve’ and ‘unreliable’ have become the norm.

Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, even went to declared that “he plans to limit interactions with the US.” Why?

“This happens after the US failed to take any effective action on Syria and Palestine. Relations with the US have been deteriorating for a while, as Saudi feels that the US is growing closer with Iran and the US also failed to support Saudi Arabia policy over Bahrain.

“There would be no further coordination with the United States over the war in Syria, where the Saudis have armed and financed rebel groups fighting Bashar Al Assad. The kingdom has informed the US of its actions in Syria, and diplomats say it has respected US requests not to supply the groups with advanced weaponry that the West fears could fall into the hands of Al Qaida-aligned groups.”

Clearly things are not all well today between the US and its Saudis allies and to some degrees the other GCC states that have been following with concerns and worries, the United States’ hands off, smaller footprint approach and its retrenchment from the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf. There are more questions and demands and less assurances and consoling from Washington.

As a result of this US inaction in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia announced the already famous “shift away from the US,” which went viral all over the Internet.

“The shift away from the U.S. is a major one,” the source close to Saudi policy said. “Saudi doesn’t want to find itself any longer in a situation where it is dependent.”

In addition, the US is no longer the world’s main oil importer. That place now belongs to China. See The Effects of China’s Oil Demand in Global Markets.

The Saudis’ position is reasonable: if their main business partner is no longer the US, why do they have to care for anything that Washington says or does? However, this is a very strange position because for many years Saudi Arabia has always relied on the US for military protection.

So, if the Saudis are “shifting away from the US,” who is going to protect the Kingdom now? France? China? Keep in mind the words expressed by the Saudi source: “Saudi doesn’t want to find itself any longer in a situation where it is dependent.”

A Nuclear Saudi Arabia?

This idea in itself sounds like pure insanity. I find very unusual the way Saudi Arabia is treating the US now. They’re treating Washington with utter disdain. “Like crap” as someone would say. They don’t even hide their indignation with the Obama administration, but, all of a sudden, the Saudis have become very bold. It’s like they’ve realized of a power they didn’t have before. Will it be all the billions the Saudis hold in US debt or…Will it be something else? This is what Mark Urban explains on his report: “Saudi nuclear weapons ‘on order’ from Pakistan”

Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects, and believes it could obtain atomic bombs at will, a variety of sources have told BBC Newsnight.

While the kingdom’s quest has often been set in the context of countering Iran’s atomic programme, it is now possible that the Saudis might be able to deploy such devices more quickly than the Islamic republic.

Earlier this year, a senior Nato decision maker told me that he had seen intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery.

Last month Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, told a conference in Sweden that if Iran got the bomb, “the Saudis will not wait one month. They already paid for the bomb, they will go to Pakistan and bring what they need to bring.”

Since 2009, when King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warned visiting US special envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross that if Iran crossed the threshold, “we will get nuclear weapons”, the kingdom has sent the Americans numerous signals of its intentions.

Well, I don’t know about you, but let me tell you, I almost gasped when I was reading this. Can you imagine Saudi Arabia and Iran armed with nuclear weapons and pointing missiles at each other throats? The report continues:

The story of Saudi Arabia’s project – including the acquisition of missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads over long ranges – goes back decades.

In the late 1980s they secretly bought dozens of CSS-2 ballistic missiles from China.

These rockets, considered by many experts too inaccurate for use as conventional weapons, were deployed 20 years ago.

This summer experts at defence publishers Jane’s reported the completion of a new Saudi CSS-2 base with missile launch rails aligned with Israel and Iran.

It has also been clear for many years that Saudi Arabia has given generous financial assistance to Pakistan’s defence sector, including, western experts allege, to its missile and nuclear labs.

Visits by the then Saudi defence minister Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz al Saud to the Pakistani nuclear research centre in 1999 and 2002 underlined the closeness of the defence relationship.

[..] In Eating the Grass, his semi-official history of the Pakistani nuclear program, Major General Feroz Hassan Khan wrote that Prince Sultan’s visits to Pakistan’s atomic labs were not proof of an agreement between the two countries. But he acknowledged, “Saudi Arabia provided generous financial support to Pakistan that enabled the nuclear program to continue.”

Whatever understandings did or did not exist between the two countries in the 1990s, it was around 2003 that the kingdom started serious strategic thinking about its changing security environment and the prospect of nuclear proliferation.

A paper leaked that year by senior Saudi officials mapped out three possible responses – to acquire their own nuclear weapons, to enter into an arrangement with another nuclear power to protect the kingdom, or to rely on the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.

According to Gary Samore, former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, the Saudis weren’t that happy with the 2003 Iraq war either:

It was around the same time, following the US invasion of Iraq, that serious strains in the US/Saudi relationship began to show themselves, says Gary Samore.

The Saudis resented the removal of Saddam Hussein, had long been unhappy about US policy on Israel, and were growing increasingly concerned about the Iranian nuclear program.

[…] In 2007, the US mission in Riyadh noted they were being asked questions by Pakistani diplomats about US knowledge of “Saudi-Pakistani nuclear cooperation”.

[…] By the end of that decade Saudi princes and officials were giving explicit warnings of their intention to acquire nuclear weapons if Iran did.

Having warned the Americans in private for years, last year Saudi officials in Riyadh escalated it to a public warning, telling a journalist from the Times “it would be completely unacceptable to have Iran with a nuclear capability and not the kingdom”.

[…] As for the seriousness of the Saudi threat to make good on the deal, Simon Henderson, Director of the Global Gulf and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told BBC Newsnight “the Saudis speak about Iran and nuclear matters very seriously. They don’t bluff on this issue.”

Urban’s report also claims Pakistan has already delivered Shaheen missiles to Saudia Arabia “minus warheads.” Those missiles will look something like this:

(Source: Pakistan 33)

And it looks Saudi Arabia already got enough of US shenanigans in the Middle East:

In Egypt, Saudi Arabia showed itself ready to step in with large-scale backing following the military overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi’s government.

There is a message here for Pakistan, of Riyadh being ready to replace US military assistance or World Bank loans, if standing with Saudi Arabia causes a country to lose them.

As usual, Pakistan regarded these reports as mere “speculations,” and Saudi Arabia just denied everything. See What does the Saudi government’s nuclear statement mean?

The evidence is clear: we’re moving towards a multipolar world, (and a very dangerous one), where regional powers will be the norm, and where the US opinion will not always be needed.

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