Analysis: As Iran closes in on nuclear capability, regional states pursue their own programs

UAE, Jordan, Turkey plan to build nuclear power plants.

Rouhani at the UN 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)
Rouhani at the UN 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)
It is no secret that Shi’ite Iran’s nuclear program has increased already high sectarian tensions with Sunni states in the region, seeming to play a significant part in their decisions to pursue their own.
For example, in 2011, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki al-Faisal said his country might produce nuclear weapons if Iran got them. The Guardian reported in 2010 that Western intelligence officials believe Pakistan promised to provide Saudi Arabia with nuclear weapons in a crisis.
And in a TV interview on Egypt’s Channel 1 this month, Egyptian Prof. Muhammad al- Naschie said that nuclear energy was needed for energy, desalination and military defense, according to a transcript provided by MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute).
“It is only natural for any country to consider that since the world around it is becoming a jungle, with every country threatening its neighbors with two, three or 20 nuclear bombs... anyone would say: I want nuclear energy too, for military defense. Iran is doing it, and Israel is doing it, so we should have [nuclear] energy, so that when the region turns into a jungle, we will be able to defend ourselves,” said Naschie.
The United Arab Emirates is installing nuclear power plants for peaceful purposes.
Jordan has plans to build its first reactor.
Turkey is planning two nuclear reactors having just signed a $22 billion deal on Tuesday with japan to build its second one, according to the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News.
Other Arab countries are also reported to be thinking of developing peaceful nuclear programs.
Karl Dewey, the proliferation editor at IHS Jane’s, told The Jerusalem Post that Gulf states see nuclear energy “as a way of diversifying their energy mix, minimizing their own oil consumption and maximizing oil available for export.” In addition, he noted, there are also the benefits of water desalination.
In Dewey’s view, these nuclear energy programs “are independent of any perceived Iranian nuclear-weapons’ program and, if they take place, will likely come under IAEA safeguard agreements, minimizing the potential for offensive use.”
While there are suspicions that Saudi Arabia is seeking nuclear weapons and rumors that it financed Pakistan’s program, there is no concrete evidence and it has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Dewey said that if Riyadh were looking to acquire nuclear weapons, “it would look to a country such as Pakistan.
“Saudi Arabia has missiles capable of reaching Iran, and in July this year, IHS Jane’s published previously undisclosed Saudi launch facilities for their DF-3 missiles,” he said, adding that theoretically, a Saudi nuclear-capable missile could reach Iran. But he believes it is unlikely the Saudis would develop them inside their country due to political and technical factors.
Regarding the UAE program, Dewey said it is highly unlikely that it could move to a nuclear weapons program, because it “lack[s] the technical skills, space to conceal a program and can rely on the US for conventional protection.”
Turkey, he added, also is not likely to seek nuclear weapons.
However, there is a history of countries that started with a “peaceful” nuclear program only to expand and turn it into a nuclear weapons program as well. Iran, which signed the NPT in 1968, is nevertheless widely believed to be developing nuclear weapons.
North Korea joined the NPT in 1985 with what was supposed to be a peaceful program, only to go on to kick out International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and withdraw from the NPT in 2003 and announce that it had carried out an underground test in 2006.
And regarding India and Pakistan, both began their programs as “peaceful,” only to later produce nuclear weapons. New Delhi set up its Atomic Energy Commission in 1948 to develop its peaceful program. In 1956, India established its Apsara reactor with the assistance of Britain. Then, in 1974, India conducted its first nuclear explosion test underground, known as the “Smiling Buddha.”
Pakistan began its peaceful use of atomic energy in 1956 by setting up the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, and in 1972, the country set up its first nuclear power station with Canada’s help.
After India’s nuclear explosion in 1974, Pakistan raced toward the bomb, launching a secret program run by Dr. A.Q. Khan and conducting a nuclear test in 1998.
Hence, the proliferation of peaceful nuclear programs in the Middle East comes with many dangers.
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