NBC Weapons: Got Nukes?




January 20, 2009: Does  Saudi Arabia have nuclear weapons? A combination of factors suggests the kingdom may have successfully gone shopping for nuclear weapons technology. It all began when Saudi Arabia, terrified by potential invasion from Saddam's Iraq in 1991, allowed U.S. armed forces unprecedented access to protect the kingdom and establish a staging ground for Desert Storm. Now, the Saudi Sunni royals fear another usurper, the rise of Shia Iran. Iran has ambitions to dominate the region and achieve superpower status, placing itself in a position of hegemony and theological preeminence in the Muslim world.

Indeed, Iran's nuclear ambitions seem to have triggered a regional nuclear arms race. The neighbors started their own nuclear programs within months of Iran's decision to start enriching uranium. In the 11 months following Iran's decision to develop nuclear energy in 2006, 13 countries across the Middle East drew up new plans, or revived discarded ones, for building nuclear power projects.

It is, arguably, more attractive for the Saudis to develop their own nuclear deterrent than to rely upon a foreign defender, such as the U.S., especially when the foreign defender is a military ally of Israel. Such leverage of power could guarantee the safety and continuity of the rule of the Sunni royals. Security of Islam's holy sites and security of the Saudi oilfields could be assured without the undesirable presence of hated infidel armies.

The German magazine Cicero claims Saudi Arabia is working on a nuclear program with the help of Pakistan. Some experts believe Riyadh may have helped finance Islamabad's 1998 nuclear world debut, aided by the willing cooperation of rogue Pakistani atomic scientist and Muslim true-believer, A. Q. Khan. UPI Editor-in-Chief Arnaud de Borchgrave says, "future events will confirm that Pakistan has agreed to provide KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) with the wherewithal for a nuclear deterrent."

According to India Daily, Pakistan's President Musharraf has entered into secret agreement with the Saudis to deliver the nukes. The publication speculated that the battered Musharraf wished to gain unconditional support of the Saudis in exchange of handing over the nuke blueprints. The U.S. was unable to help Musharraf maintain power in the Pakistani elections. The new president, Asif Ali Zardari, knows the river of American dollars will eventually dry up. Pakistan needs the money; the Saudis have oil money and they want the nukes. The Saudis are not interested in acquiring nuclear weapons manufacturing capability or weapons-grade material. The Saudis love to go shopping. They can shell out unlimited petrodollars to purchase anything they want. They want to acquire the actual weapons for missile warhead delivery.

What are indications that the Saudis have a nuclear weapons program in progress? Saudi Arabia has constructed a site for the deployment of long-range missiles in the Al Sulial desert 500 kilometers south of Riyadh. The "missile city" complex contains missile silos, factories and residential housing areas for hundreds of site workers. Satellite photos reveal two missile bases and a complex of 33 buildings, eight of them capable of storing Chinese CSS-2 medium (MRBM) and intermediate range (IRBM) ballistic missiles, which have a range of between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometers. The missile, 24 meters long, is capable of carrying a two ton non-conventional warhead. It seems unlikely that the Saudis would acquire nuclear- capable intermediate and medium range missiles with the intent to merely arm them with conventional warheads.

Riyadh received deliveries of the CSS-2 from the People's Republic of China beginning in 1990 as part of a deal for up to 120 missiles and 12 launchers. The rockets were originally intended as a deterrent to Israel, but in 1991, the threat shifted to Saddam's Iraq. Now the threat has shifted to bellicose Iran. The Israelis are, of course, aware of the missile city, but are unlikely to feel threatened as long as peaceable King Abdullah rules the royal roost in Riyadh. The US, a mega-business and strategic ally of the Saudis, may be pressuring the Israelis to keep their mouths shut.

Other Middle Eastern states expressing interest in developing "peaceful" nuclear energy programs include: Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Yemen. The Bush administration quietly signed an agreement to supply the United Arab Emirates with nuclear fuel and technology amid concerns Iran's continued enrichment of uranium will spur nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.

Every state that goes nuclear gives its neighbors strong reason to do likewise as a hedge against threat and uncertainty. There is always the danger that peaceful nuclear energy intentions will be misinterpreted by non-nuclear neighbors.

Will U.S. Homeland Security and defense priorities be affected by this new found interest in nuclear energy projects by the Arab states? There are too many willing sellers of nuclear technology who reside outside the troubled region. As these programs go forward, the atomic genie seems determined to escape from his bottle and spread his mischief beyond the deserts of the volatile Middle East. -- Larry E. Harris




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