When one goes nuclear, they all go nuclear. That is the message from the director of the political-military affairs bureau at Israel’s Defense Ministry. The statement is resonating as the Middle East prepares itself for nuclear proliferation.
Speaking at a March 12 conference for policy and strategy, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amos Gilad said, “The Arabs will not tolerate the Persians having the bomb.” He went on to point out two nations that would likely acquire nuclear weapons should Iran obtain the weapons it desires.
First, Saudi Arabia. Reports indicate the Saudis have already purchased nuclear weapons from Pakistan. According to a bbc report, as of November weapons had already been purchased and were ready to be transported.
“The Saudis will run to buy the bomb from the Pakistanis with a ‘member’s discount,’” said Gilad, indicating that the Saudis won’t hesitate to obtain the weapons—if they haven’t already.
The wholesale collapse of Saudi-U.S. relations, and the U.S. efforts to reconcile with Iran, have been game changers for Saudi Arabia. Riyadh once relied on Washington as a powerful ally—America’s large-scale presence in the Middle East provided strong backing. The U.S. powerhouse deterred Iran from gaining regional dominance. In recent years, however, particularly since the dawn of the Arab Spring, the U.S. has downscaled its military presence, doing all it can to establish a relationship with Iran—Saudi Arabia’s mortal enemy.
As a result, America is viewed by its old allies as “untrustworthy and treacherous,” as one source told Reuters. The Persian Gulf is all that separates Saudi Arabia from Iran—and Tehran’s soon-to-be nuclear weapons. Gilad recognizes the fact that Saudi Arabia doesn’t feel America has its back, and so must take matters into its own hands to guarantee its safety. Hence the proliferation of nukes.
The second power Gilad mentioned was Egypt: “The Egyptians have the resources, capability and know-how to achieve nuclear capabilities.” While Egypt is still suffering from the devastating economic setbacks of two coups, it certainly has the means to produce nuclear weapons.
Egypt’s nuclear program began in 1954 when then-President Gamal Abdel Nassar oversaw the installment of the first Russian research reactor in the Nile Delta. Since that time, the nuclear program has grown to the point where Egypt can produce just over 13 pounds of plutonium per year. In an interview with The Blaze, one professor speculated that such a quantity would be enough to produce one bomb a year, and that Egypt has the capability to produce 24 nuclear warheads.
Egypt has been open about its nuclear program in the past, claiming it would only seek nukes if Iran did. The Egyptians have done little more than pursue weapons proliferation on a rhetorical level so far, but never before has Iran been so close to obtaining the nuclear weapon as it is today.
Iran’s nuclear drive may yet fuel a push for weapons by Egypt. Egypt’s predicament is similar to that of Saudi Arabia. America’s current foreign policy has shattered ties between Washington and the military-backed government in Cairo today. America has withheld military aid packages it has given to Egypt for years. If this is not a subtle hint that the Saudis don’t have the support of the American superpower, what is?
With American support dwindling, Mideast nations that have long been considered relatively stable and nonthreatening could quickly become a threat in and of themselves. Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt may start looking beyond conventional armaments to nuclear weapons as the new preventative to Iranian belligerence.
Nature abhors a vacuum. With U.S. power gone, smaller, weaker Arab nations must fill the void. With no quick way of raising a conventional army, the nuclear option seems most viable—particularly for those nations that have the means to create or buy them quickly.
Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia have pivotal roles to play in Mideast geopolitics. These nations will be established in region-shaping alliances. The twist is, one will be allied with Iran and one will be allied against it.