|King Salman bin 'Abd al-'Aziz Al Sa'ud|
It appears almost inevitable that the Obama Administration is going to push through the completion of what many to consider to be a mediocre-at-best agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran over its nuclear program. Regardless of the hard sales pitches by both the President and Secretary of State John Kerry, the Iranians remain focused on the acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability. I believe they will ultimately be successful.
I am not the only one that believes that the Iranians will eventually have nuclear weapons - it already has the ballistic missiles to deliver them. One need only look to the west across the Persian Gulf to find the country (with the understandable exception of Israel) most concerned with the Iranian nuclear arms program - the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis have been wary of Iran since the 1979 revolution and Tehran's desire to export that revolution throughout the region. Since 1982 when Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Syria and Lebanon contingent (forerunner of today's Qods Force) began operations in Lebanon and created Hizballah, the Iranians have been a major force in the politics of both countries.
After the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent civil war, Iran has meddled incessantly in Iraqi politics - after the premature removal of American forces in 2011, Iran became the major power broker in the country. Some say it remains that to this day.
The recent and ongoing crisis in Yemen has Tehran's handwriting all over it. The Shi'a Houthi group is sponsored, equipped and funded by the Iranians. If you are sitting in Riyadh, you see Iran wielding significant influence in four Arab capitals - Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and now Sana'. Iran is constantly displaying new, indigenous weapons, including more capable and longer range ballistic missiles.
The Saudis have reason to worry - they, like most rational observers of Middle East events, are convinced that Iran will at some point in the next few years, possess nuclear weapons.
The Saudi concern with a potentially nuclear-armed Iran is nothing new. I wrote an article in late 2011 - The coming nuclear arms race in the Middle East (December 5, 2011). From that article:
The former director of Saudi Arabia's intelligence service stated this week that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, then the Kingdom may be forced to as well. Although Prince Turki al-Faysal couched his remarks by first citing the world's failure to convince Israel to abandon its nuclear weapons, then casually adding "as well as Iran," his meaning was perfectly clear - if Iran develops them, we'll buy our own. Saudi Arabia is currently planning to build 16 nuclear reactors to generate electricity. The weapons program would be an easy add-on, although the Kingdom is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Saudi interest in a nuclear weapons capability is not new. In 1987, the Saudis purchased CSS-2 missiles from China; the missiles are designed to carry a nuclear warhead. Although the Saudis did not acquire that capability, they did express interest in a joint research and development program with Pakistan. If the Saudis decide to move ahead with a nuclear weapons capability, they have the requisite infrastructure already in place.
While I deplore the release of classified documents by the Wikileaks crowd, some of the information is interesting. Here is an excerpt from a February 2010 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh to the Secretary of State. (10RIYADH178, SCENESETTER FOR SECRETARY CLINTON'S FEB 15-16 VISIT TO SAUDI ARABIA, classified SECRET NOFORN. Read the entire cable here.)
9. (S/NF) COUNTERING IRAN: We expect that Saudi Arabia will continue to develop its ties with China, in part to counterbalance relations with the West. While the King's preference is to cooperate with the U.S., he has concluded that he needs to proceed with his own strategy to counter Iranian influence in the region, which includes rebuilding Riyadh-Cairo-Damascus coordination, supporting Palestinian reconciliation, supporting the Yemeni government, and expanding relations with non-traditional partners such as Russia, China, and India to create diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran that do not directly depend on U.S. help. The King told General Jones that if Iran succeeded in developing nuclear weapons, everyone in the region would do the same, including Saudi Arabia.
10. (S/NF) The King is convinced that current U.S. engagement efforts with Tehran will not succeed; he is likely to feel grimly vindicated in his view by Ahmadinejad's February 11 boast that having successfully enriched uranium to a level of 20 percent, Iran "is now a nuclear nation." The King told General Jones that Iranian internal turmoil presented an opportunity to weaken the regime -- which he encouraged -- but he also urged that this be done covertly and stressed that public statements in support of the reformers were counterproductive. The King assesses that sanctions could help weaken the government, but only if they are strong and sustained. The King will want you to elaborate on the President's statement that the time for sanctions has come. He will also want to hear our plans for bolstering Gulf defenses vis-a-vis Iran. (The King has invited General Petraeus to his desert camp for discussion on this topic on Tuesday.)
Although some of the situation in the Middle East has changed since I wrote that, such as the hope that Syria could be part of a counter to Iran and the fact that there is a new king in Saudi Arabia, the rest still holds true. I assess that new Saudi King Salman has already given the orders to the new Minister of Defense and Aviation (his son), to scope out what it would take to acquire at least the same capability as Iran.
Of course, by doing so the Saudis may run afoul of the Obama Administration. However, the Administration has proven that they are willing to allow other countries to enrich uranium in contravention of international agreements with little consequence.
If you are living in the Persian Gulf region, the overly optimistic assurances from President Obama and Secretary Kerry that their agreement with Iran will prevent the Iranians from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability ring hollow.
If I was King Salman, I would do the same thing.