US President Donald Trump recently took another step toward bringing Saudi Arabia into the nuclear club. While Israeli-Saudi ties have warmed in recent years, helping the desert kingdom go nuclear – with its ongoing support for the most extreme Islamic radicals in the world – can hardly be good for the Jewish state.
Secret negotiations with the US Energy Department over many months have led Washington to “transfer highly sensitive US nuclear technology, a potential violation of federal law,” to Saudi Arabia, according to House Oversight Committee sources cited by The Washington Post.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) revealed last week that at least two transfers were approved since the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Saudis say they want to begin building their own nuclear power plants with their own enriched uranium, even though it could be purchased elsewhere more cheaply. That raises suspicions that their real goal isn’t producing electricity. By enriching their own uranium, they could begin diverting it to highly enriched weapons grade, especially if they bar international inspectors, as they’ve insisted.
Given its record of obeisance to Saudi demands for top technology and weapons, it is unlikely the Trump administration would object, but instead continue helping to conceal the kingdom’s plans.
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman
, the de facto ruler, has said that the kingdom would build nuclear weapons if the Iranians did. He may have taken encouragement from a speech in the UAE last month by Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton.
The Iranians are threatening to leave the nuclear pact with the major powers – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – in the wake of the Trump administration’s unilateral exit last year and imposition of sanctions to tighten the economic screws on Tehran.
There’s “no reason” for Iran to walk away from JCPOA, “unless it is to reduce the breakout time to nuclear weapons,” said Bolton, a decades-long advocate of regime change in Iran. Bolton offered no evidence to back his claim.
That should give MBS the rationale he seeks to develop his version of the bomb.
When he turns to Trump for help, he will remind the president that if America won’t sell it to him, there are others who will. Trump is a sucker for that pitch.
North Korea would be a good place to go shopping, since they tried helping Syria build nukes until the Israeli Air Force
stopped the plan, something it had done earlier in Iraq. Then there’s Pakistan, which is believed to have built its own nuclear weapons stockpile with Saudi financial help.
THERE MIGHT BE some resistance on Capitol Hill, where Saudi support is low and sinking, but Trump has shown himself more responsive to the wishes of the Saudis than the US Congress.
Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina may moan and groan and make threatening sounds toward Riyadh, but he and majority leader Mitch McConnell are Trump’s poodles, and will make sure the president gets what he wants.
All US administrations – Republican and Democratic – have indulged the Saudi appetite for top technology and weapons. They’ve been driven by pressure from industry and its friends in the Pentagon to sell, sell, sell – and an inexplicable attitude that we need the Saudis far more than they need us. Trump has just raised this to a new level.
Trump’s latest selling spree includes 120,000 conversion kits to produce smart bombs. It is part of an $8.1 billion package that Trump labeled “emergency” to bypass Congressional review.
Most alarming is the Trump administration’s approval for the transfer of highly sensitive weapons technology and equipment to Saudi Arabia so the kingdom can produce electronic guidance systems for Paveway precision-guided bombs, according to congressional sources cited by The New York Times.
The administration assured Congress that it is confident in the Saudi ability to protect the technology, that the need is urgent and that it won’t alter the balance of power in the region – which is exactly what it is intended to do.
Look for Trump to justify massive sales to the Saudis and the UAE as also helping protect Israel from Iran. Historically, all administrations have justified arms sales around the Middle East as harmless to Israel’s qualitative military edge. But they aren’t. Especially when the US is selling the Arabs the same planes, missiles and technology it sells Israel. Trump values his oil-rich customer so much that he has rejected the findings of his own CIA that the crown prince was complicit in Khashoggi’s murder.
Saudi Arabia is the Pentagon’s favorite cash cow. Arms sales are a lucrative business for the US Defense Department, which charges commissions and other fees, and gets economies of scale for its own purchases while selling off old inventory to help pay for replacements. Military attachés around the world are top salesmen for defense contractors as they lay the groundwork for post-uniform careers. Then there are the former – and possibly future – defense industry executives at the highest levels of the Pentagon, starting with the Secretary of Defense.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) said the administration “has effectively given a blank check to the Saudis – turning a blind eye to the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi and allowing their ballistic missile program to expand.”
The United States is not allowed to sell ballistic missiles, so the Saudis have turned to China. CNN reported last week that American intelligence believes Beijing is helping enhance the kingdom’s strategic missile program. In the 1980s, it secretly bought Chinese DF-3 missiles and based them within range of Israel. It bought more advanced missiles in 2007 with the approval of then-president George W. Bush. Unconfirmed published reports suggest they also bought other missiles from Pakistan, which produces a version of the North Korean Nodong missile.
If the Saudis decide to pursue nuclear weapons, they can turn to Trump’s dear friend Kim Jong Un, whose cash-strapped regime has developed its own and the missiles to deliver them.
With Trump looking for business that will create jobs he can claim credit for – and with John Bolton rattling sabers and B-52s, and calling for regime change in Iran – can Saudi Arabia be knocking on an open door to the nuclear club?
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