Iran and Saudi’s nuclear dilemma

Saudi PakistanEven the majority of the Arabian states greeted the Geneva Accord, behind the curtains, they are distrustful of the real intentions of Teheran. Far, the most visible attitude on this line is the Saudi Arabia`s who sees Iran like the main rival in Persian Gulf region. Beyond the geopolitical interests and the Persian-Arabian or Sunni-Shiite cleavages, the Islamic revolution of 1979 imposed an ideology which denigrates Saudi monarchy itself.

In this entire context, it is easy to understand Riyadh’s insecurity feeling. This one will increase if the nuclear file resolution would modify the present status quo. Economical relief followed by the  lifting of  embargo and economic restrictions imposed by US and EU could allow Iran to become an important energy actor, interconnected with Western states interests, aspect that would make emphasize the Shiite axis in Middle East. On the other hand, negotiations failure followed by the nuclear arming would transform Iran into the main military power of a Muslim state, with a projection capacity of the national interest from Caucasia to extreme Central Asia.

This is why Saudis based their regional policy either on the Iranian nuclear program control or on getting nuclear weapons before Iran. Remember king Abdullah`s statement in 2009. He told, Dennis Ross, the US special Envoy to Middle East, that the kingdom would obtain mass destruction weapons when Iran would cross the red line.

The red line, this silent ultimatum, is represented by the moment when Teheran arrives few months before nuclear arsenal production. Nevertheless, trust deficit has reached a critical threshold and Riyadh sees Obama administration way too naïve in the negotiations with Iranian leadership, which determines the monarchy to strengthen its own security architecture through alliances with regional powers.

In November 2013, international media conveyed the scenario according to which Saudis and Israel would attack Iran if negotiations between Teheran and Western powers failed. Since the alliance with the Jewish state is a last minute one, the royal house inevitably moves to another strong partner: Pakistan.

At the begging of this year, prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, found in an official visit in Islamabad, announced that the two countries agreed to strengthen military partnerships. The message is simple: Pakistan, the only nuclear power among Muslim states, is willing to provide nuclear warheads to Riyadh if Teheran is considered to have crossed the famous red line. Tensions between Iran and Pakistan have increased since 1979, and they escalated over time, in particular as a result of territorial disputes on the border area of Balochistan. It is thus understandable why cultural and political elite of Pakistan got closer to Saudi Arabia, creating a joint regional policy. Moreover, the Saudis were considered the main sponsor of the Pakistani nuclear program conducted in the 80s because they wanted to have such weapons if the security interests would require this.

It is estimated that currently Pakistan has between 90 and 110 operational warheads, but in 2015 it is expected to equal or exceed India`s similar capabilities. However, it is true that Pakistanis or Saudis do not want an arming race in the Middle East realizing that this would give rise to security dilemmas. Turkey and even Egypt could decide to start similar programs.

Also, when arming, Saudis would violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as well as the strategic partnership with the U.S. in 2008 while the monarchy would risk losing the sympathy of the West. All these dilemmas and risks posed by the possible scenarios show that Washington remains the only viable guarantor of Saudi security. The charges brought lately at Washington address, as well as Riyadh`s refusal to receive the offered place in the UN Security Council should be understood in the same note as before.

Do not forget that the Saudis questioned the relations with Washington in 2003, when Saddam Hussein’s regime was replaced by a Shiite regime, or in 2011 when the Muslim Brotherhood reached power in Cairo.

However, Riyadh`s message is a conclusive one for the Iranian regime which is forced to carefully consider future actions. The placement of the U.S. missile shield in Southeast Europe, the actual capacity of Saudis to have nuclear weapons in a relatively short time and the weakening of its own economic system, all these aspects could reduce the enormous strategic advantages of nuclear arming.

Leave a Reply