Pakistan Ready to Give Saudi Arabia Nuclear Bombs, Experts Say

Riyadh's instant nuclear option is a clear signal to the West not to be tempted into cutting the Iranians slack.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

Saudi Arabia helped finance the Pakistani nuclear weapons program and is confident Islamabad will give it atomic bombs – which could trigger a Middle Eastern nuclear arms race, the BBC reported on Wednesday. According to a NATO source, Pakistan actually has made bombs for Saudi Arabia and they are ready to go, the report said.

Experts say the kingdom has long aspired to achieve nuclear capacity of its own, in order to counter Iran's atomic ambitions. Getting the bomb merely by tapping Pakistan for it could bring the unnerved kingdom, which is openly anxious about Washington's warming ties with Iran, into the nuclear age even before its Muslim neighbor, they now suggest.

"They [Saudis] already paid for the bomb, they will go to Pakistan and bring what they need to bring," former Israeli Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin said, according to the BBC.

Saudi Arabia hasn't hidden its ambition, openly stating to the U.S. as early as 2009 that it would also seek capacity if "Iran crossed the threshold," the BBC reported, adding that Saudi Arabia has had the missile technology to deliver warheads since the late 1980s. In May 2012, former senior U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross confirmed for the first time that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah explicitly warned that if Iran obtains nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia would seek to do so as well.

Iran may not be the only target: Jane's reported last summer that Saudi Arabia has missile launchers aimed at Israel too.

The state of Iran's nuclear project is far from clear. Some sources, including the U.S.-base Institution for Science and International Security, think Tehran could be just weeks away from stockpiling enough enriched uranium to produce its first nuclear weapon, based on the amounts of enriched uranium that the Iranians have accumulated so far and on the number of fast centrifuges that have been installed recently.

The ISIS did not postulate on how long it would actually take to build a working bomb from that stockpile.

As for the perceived changes in Iran's attitude towards the West, spearheaded by the newly-elected president Hassan Rohani, Israeli military sources do not believe they change Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Washington meanwhile recently suggested that it believes building the bomb could take at least a year. In late October the White House urged Senate committee leaders to hold off on new sanctions, in order to give negotiation a chance.

The detailed BBC report on the Saudi funding of Pakistan's military nuclear program didn't add too many new details. The assumption that the Saudi kingdom invested billions of Dollars in building the Islamic bomb and in return can demand an operation nuclear weapon at any time, that the Pakistanis were basically the contractors and custodians who absorbed international condemnation while the Saudis picked up the tab, has long existed within the western intelligence community and has appeared before in the media. What is interesting in the BBC's report which was based on sources in London, Washington, Riyadh and Islamabad was its timing.

Coming out at the same time as representatives of the Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council along with Germany were about to meet in Geneva for another round of talks over Iran's nuclear program, the report signals the frustration of the Saudi leadership at the "too-soft" approach of the Obama administration towards the new Iranian government under President Hassan Rouhani, their concern the Americans will sign an agreement which will continue to allow the Iranians to secretly advance towards nuclear capability and their belief that President Barack Obama has taken the military option off the table. The most surprising detail in the report, the non-denial from the Saudis (Pakistan denied it) strengthens this message. Instead the Saudis preferred to blame the international community for not doing enough to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

The veiled threat from Riyadh of its instant nuclear option was a clear signal to the leaders of the west not to be tempted in to cutting the Iranians some slack and that in the regional arms race that will be on the moment Iran completes its nuclear cycle, the Saudis won't be starting from square one.

A Sajjil missile is displayed by Iran's Revolutionary Guard, in front of a portrait of the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during a military parade near Tehran, September 21, 2012. Credit: AP
Photo purports to show the Shahed-129, an Iranian missile-carrying drone with, reportedly, 1,700-km range.Credit: AP
Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, right, meets with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Tehran, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013.Credit: AP

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