Baker-Hamilton report redoubles nuclear arms race in the Middle East
If there was any doubt about how Sunni Arab states see Iranian nuclear ambitions, it was cleared up by a declaration by the Gulf Cooperation Council that they intend to pursue nuclear power. It is not a threat,” said Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister. “It is an announcement so that there will be ...
It is not a threat,” said Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister. “It is an announcement so that there will be no misinterpretation for what we are doing.”
The timing of the announcement, coming as it does on the heels of the Baker-Hamilton report, would indicate otherwise. The Baker report urges the administration to engage Iran to secure its support on Iraq, but punts on the nuclear issue.
Saudi Arabia is already quite nervous about having a Shiite Iraq controlled by the Iranians right on its borders. Its largest oilfield, Ghawar, is close to the Iraqi border and lies beneath a sizable and increasingly restive Shia population. Bahrain, another oil-producing state, is majority Shiite but is ruled by a Sunni minority. The precarious position of these Sunni regimes has them freaking out about growing Iranian influence in the region.
The message is that the gulf countries will develop their own nuclear program if Iran is rewarded with the terms of the Baker-Hamilton report,” said Abdelaziz O. Sager, chairman of the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, who is familiar with the nuclear initiative. “They are trying to say that if the Iranian program continues, you will force us to become nuclear capable too.”
This is not an empty threat. Saudi Arabia, for example, has been considering nuclear weapons for at least a decade. Their quest became more fervent in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion and Iran’s nuclear shenanigans. The Saudis certainly have the cash. And they already have the missiles, courtesy of China, and have flirted with using Pakistani know-how to develop the payload.
Tehran’s nuclear ambitions spook the Saudis more than the Israeli bomb ever has. After all, Iran has supported Shiite terrorists operating in Saudi Arabia (it was blamed by some for the 1996 Khobar Tower Bombing) and spares no effort to embarrass Saudi Arabia for its close relationship with the U.S. As Mark Levenstein put it in a earlier posting chez Passport: “we need to stop Iran’s enrichment program cold lest nuclear power plants start sprouting up in the Middle East like mushrooms after a storm.” But it’s easier said than done.
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