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(photo credit: AP [file])
With the world seemingly unable to stop Iran's nuclear march, other countries in the region are now pushing forward with their own plans to build nuclear power plants.
The Saudi newspaper Al-Watan reported on Thursday that the Saudi minister of water and electricity, Abdullah al-Hosain, said the kingdom was working on plans for its first nuclear power plant. The US inked civil nuclear power deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates last year.
Israel had no official response to the Saudi minister's announcement.
Over the last two years, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, the UAE, Yemen, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt have all indicated an interest in developing nuclear programs, with Israeli officials saying, off the record, that if these countries did not want the programs now for their military capabilities, they wanted the technology in place to keep "other options open" if Iran were to develop a bomb.
Israel has been careful not to take a public stand on civilian nuclear programs in neighboring states, partly because as one of the few countries in the world that has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, it is not keen on lobbying against nuclear know-how for peaceful needs going to countries that are willing to sign the treaty, since that would focus the limelight on Israel's own unique situation.
There is also a sense that if the programs were under the supervision of the US or France, which pledged two years ago to help Morocco develop a nuclear program, then there would be little concern that they would later be turned into military projects.
Nevertheless, defense officials said that Saudi interest in nuclear power was connected to Teheran's continued race toward nuclear power.
"The Saudis are genuinely scared of what will happen if Iran turns nuclear," one official said. "This is part of their response."
On the other hand, the officials said that Saudi Arabia's nuclear program was not of concern at the moment for Israel since the project was being established jointly with the United States and in the framework of International Atomic Energy Agency regulations.
Israeli defense officials have warned for several years that one potential outcome of Iran's success in defying the international community and establishing a nuclear program would be that other countries in the Middle East would follow suit.