Apr 23 2010
Arab rulers were not listening when Barack Hussein Obama declared last week that a Middle East nuclear arms race must be prevented. With the Saudis leading the pack, they were too busy working on their own response to the evolving Iranian nuclear threat.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources, as far back as the fall of 2009, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia decided the oil kingdom had better make its own arrangements and develop an independent program as fast as possible against the day that Iran attains its goal of a nuclear weapon.
On April 13, when Obama warned the 47 world leaders attending his nuclear security summit that the biggest threat facing the United States and the world was a nuclear-armed terrorist organization or loner, the heads of the Saudi royal family were getting down to the nuts and bolts of their own military nuclear program.
Assuming Iran was already in possession of the materials and components for assembling a bomb, the Saudis set aside funding to speed the program and reach the finishing line as soon as possible after Iran. Riyadh would then counter-balance Tehran as a nuclear power.
For failing to stop Iran, Obama has set forth a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
The theory goes that an Israel strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities would obviate the Saudi need to develop an independent nuclear capability and so avert a Middle East nuclear race. That may have been true up to just over a year ago – not now, because Israel held back too long and, in the meantime, the Saudis are too far into their nuclear program to stop now.
Saudi Arabia and Israel, yes Israel, share intelligence on a regular basis.
There are close ties between Saudi intelligence and the Israeli Mossad. Their heads,Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz and Meir Dagan, meet secretly several times a year, always in an Arab country outside the kingdom.egypt-declares-israeli-mossad-director-is-a-hero
In the last three years, at least two of these secret rendezvous – usually for exchanging views on how to handle Iran – were attended also by the Israeli prime minister in office at the time, giving them the opportunity to talk about Israel-Saudi relations face-to-face with Prince Muqrin.
Western intelligence sources do not rule out the possibility of these discussions yielding tacit permission for Israeli bombers to overfly Saudi air space on their way to strike Iran – “unnoticed” by Riyadh. Some even suggest that Israel may build provisional landing strips for refueling those warplanes in remote corners of the Saudi desert.
What concerns Israel most at this time is the security of the nuclear materials lodged in their secret facility in Khamis Mushait. Just as Al Qaeda and the Taliban are dangerously close to elements of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, whether from within or from Afghanistan, Islamic extremists may decide to make a grab for the kingdom’s nuclear resources from secret cells inside Saudi Arabia or from the Al Qaeda in Arabia strongholds across the southern border in Yemen.
Or Saudi Arabia, like Pakistan, might fall prey to a member of its own military or an extremist hiding deep inside some part of the establishment with access to nuclear facilities who never came up on Saudi security screens.
Unprecedented secrecy shrouds Saudi nuclear projects.
So secret is the Saudi nuclear program, that the extreme focus on the Iranian nuclear program in the West and the Arab world has left no room to conjure up its existence – let alone the peril it faced in consequence of the civil conflict in the Red Sea backwater of Yemen. But the Iranians were on top of the game.
They concluded that the Saudi nuclear drive was far enough advanced to compete with their own nuclear weaponization drive and place in question their primary strategic claim to be anointed the single reigning nuclear power of the Persian Gulf and Arab world. To halt – or at least slow down – Saudi nuclear plans, Tehran put the Houthis up to invading southern Saudi Arabia and pushing on to Khamis Mushait, the while harassing the military traffic and activity in its vicinity.
In Washington, meanwhile, a nuclear security summit opened and closed on April 13, without a murmur about the two burning nuclear terror issues of the day – the Al Qaeda-Taliban menace against Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and the Iranian threat to Saudi Arabia’s top-secret nuclear facilities.
The Saudis have low-grade enriched uranium.
The Saudi rulers established their nuclear center at the military city of Khamis Mushait because of its remoteness from oil centers and urban districts and because any foreigner or stranger turning up in this back-of-beyond region would immediately attract attention. So secret is every aspect of their nuclear weapons program, that even the personnel serving in the military sites of Khamis Mushait are mostly ignorant of its existence.
Nonetheless, DEBKA’s intelligence sources have partly lifted the veil of secrecy and discovered that the Saudis have made progress in the following fields:
1. They have acquired an unknown quantity of low-grade enriched uranium – both homemade and from outside sources – that can be processed quite quickly to weapons grade (90 percent).
2. They have built a uranium enrichment facility at Khamis Mushait. We have no information about the number of centrifuges installed there or their origins.
3. Contrary to the prevailing notion in the West, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are not cooperating on their military programs; neither has Pakistani guaranteed the oil kingdom a nuclear umbrella. Islamabad is pushing ahead with its own nuclear programs and not sharing with Riyadh.
4. Like Iran and the Syria, Saudi nuclear planners are running two parallel weapons programs for producing both enriched uranium and plutonium.
5. Riyadh’s latest plans provide for the rapid construction of several nuclear reactors, including a light water plant for producing energy and a heavy water reactor for plutonium.
6. The Saudi nuclear military program has also hired nuclear scientists from other Arab countries. Most of them are Egyptians once employed in the late Saddam Hussein‘s nuclear program or at Libya’s nuclear facilities.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources presume that the Libyan ruler kept back copies of the blueprints for his atomic bombs and centrifuges and shared them with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who four or five years ago forwarded them to King Abdullah, giving the Saudi king his first substantial leg up the nuclear ladder. DEBKA