Tel Aviv-Riyadh Normalization Stuck in Nuclear Bottleneck
Story Code : 1063180
Meanwhile, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman intends to develop a national nuclear program as part of his ambitions for reforms and diversification of home resources. However, the Saudis face serious challenges in this path. Although peaceful nuclear energy is one of the main bases for the development and progress of countries in power production, agriculture, medicine, and other areas of science and industry, the West and the Israeli regime do not allow other countries to achieve this capability.
Finding power gain of the Arab countries a serious threat to its regional interests, the Israeli regime is strongly opposed to this Saudi program. Commenting on the possibility of a civilian nuclear program for Saudi Arabia, Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz said Tel Aviv does not encourage such matters and “I do not think that Tel Aviv would agree to such issues.”
The Israeli opposition to Saudi Arabia being a nuclear state comes as the New York Times reported that one of the Saudi conditions for normalization with Israeli regime is being allowed to develop its nuclear program but the Saudi and American officials have not officially announced it. According to this report, the Israeli regime announced last week that it expects Washington to consult with it on any agreement between the US and Saudi Arabia that affects its internal security. The Haaretz newspaper quoted Israeli sources as saying that Tel Aviv has rejected Riyadh's two conditions for normalization, which are access to advanced American weapons and US agreement with Saudi Arabia's civilian nuclear program.
The type of Israeli positions towards compromising Arab countries shows that this regime has never sought to secure Israeli-Arab common interests from the normalization process, and these agreements are unilateral and in favor of Tel Aviv, and the Israelis are still determined to maintain their strategic superiority and find Arab countries’ power gain an existential threat to their interests.
The Israeli regime has historically announced its opposition to increase of any Arab country’s offensive capabilities, and over the past 75 years, this policy has been a common one among left and right-hand Israeli governments. Tel Aviv leaders broke their promise about agreement to US supply of F-35 fighter jets in return for a normalization deal between the two sides after the deal was signed in 2020. Washington halted the fighter sale deal due to Tel Aviv sensitivities. The Israelis were worried that the sale of the fifth-generation warplanes to the UAE would encourage other Arab countries to make similar demands, while the increase in Arab military power is considered a threat to the Israeli regime.
Saudi prospects for becoming a nuclear state
Saudi Arabia is resorting to alternative energy to meet its future needs. One of these energies is nuclear energy that has been put on Riyadh agenda. Saudi officials are evaluating bids to build their reactors, with companies from China, France, Russia, South Korea and the US among the bidders. Riyadh is working closely with experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency to implement the necessary rules to start its program. The country has already built its first low-energy research reactor, but it cannot begin operation until safeguards are in place.
The Arab kingdom started its first steps in the field of nuclear energy in 2019 when it said that its nuclear energy program will start with two reactors with a total capacity to produce 3 to 4 gigawatts of power, and then would develop its nuclear program in accordance with its needs. In March 2022, Saudi Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman said that his country would operate its nuclear program with its national staff. Saudi Arabia has an increasing need for power plants, but the main reasons for this country to seek nuclear energy are security issues and the need to strengthen its position in the region.
In the past two decades, Saudi Arabia has made efforts to launch a peaceful nuclear program, and in 2012, it signed agreements with China to develop nuclear energy, according to which 16 reactors are to be built by 2030. Although the US has obstructed this program and no significant progress has been made, the Saudis are seriously pursuing their ambitions and in the Ukraine war, they showed that they do not obey the Americans as in the past. Bin Salman is trying to turn Saudi Arabia into a leading country in industry and energy by 2030, and he is strongly focused on his projects. The construction of the dream megacity of Neom, which is supposed to cost $500 billion, takes renewable and up-to-date energy to operate constantly.
Israeli concerns about Saudi Arabia becoming a nuclear state
Earlier, to avoid a damage to normalization agreement, the Israeli officials refrained from commenting on the UAE nuclear power plant construction, but they seem more concerned about the Saudi nuclear aspirations than about other Arab countries’.
Although the Israeli leaders back bin Salman’s ascension to the throne as soon as possible in order to boost bilateral political and economic cooperation with Riyadh, they are worried about his ambitions. The crown prince is trying to lead Saudi Arabia towards progress and development, and the Israelis are afraid that the ambitious king-in-waiting will not be satisfied with the peaceful nuclear program and seek building nuclear weapons, something posing a serious threat to the Israeli occupation. In 2018, bin Salman for the first time publicly and explicitly said that if Iran achieves a military nuclear capability, Saudi Arabia will seek a similar capability without delay. Since then, some American political and military officials and experts have strongly opposed the nuclearization of Saudi Arabia and voiced concern about the country's development of nuclear weapons and asked the White House not to help its ally in its programs.
Concerns intensified when some sources claimed a few years ago that Saudi Arabia plans to get nuclear weapons from Pakistan off the shelf in exchange for delivering oil to the country, and even citing satellite images, they claimed that the Saudis had built an underground silo hosting several Pakistani-provided nuclear warheads, but Islamabad officials denied the reports.
Though the Israeli regime and Saudi Arabia have established their relations behind the scenes and even started various security cooperation in the region, in a broader view, the Israeli regime, which is the only holder of nuclear weapons in the region, does not tolerate Muslim countries going nuclear to maintain the balance of power in its favor. Therefore, the development of the Saudi nuclear program will be a serious problem for the Israelis. According to experts, giving legitimacy to Saudi Arabia's ability to enrich uranium, even through silence to it, may cause other countries in the region, such as Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey, to move towards this capability. This will be dangerous for the Israeli security.
Israeli-Saudi normalization in coma
The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been bending over backwards over the past three years to convince Saudi leaders to join normalization process, but he is not poised to make concessions in return. Riyadh tried to use the normalization process to, at least, take advantage of the Israeli technologies to strengthen its economic and energy infrastructure, but Tel Aviv has been evasive to Saudi advantage seeking.
Having in mind that the Saudis are resolved to advance their nuclear program, the Israeli opposition to their ambitions will put Riyadh in front of a difficult dilemma, and perhaps bin Salman will leave normalization with Tel Aviv in favor of the nuclear program and move to cooperation with Russia and China. Even Iran has said that it is ready to help the development of Saudi Arabia's peaceful nuclear program. Over the past year, the Saudis have strengthened their relations with China, Russia, and Iran, and are taking steps in parallel with Western policies, and this issue can reduce Washington's pressure on Riyadh to join normalization. After all, China and Russia, unlike the US, do not set normalization as a condition for cooperation with Saudi Arabia and are not interested in the Israeli regime.
The US tries to conclude a deal between Riyadh and Tel Aviv before the next year presidential election to promote it as a foreign policy triumph. However, divisions over key issues pose a serious challenge to any deal. Israeli media announced that there is no clear prospect of progress concerning the normalization of relations between Tel Aviv and Riyadh, and a deal is not expected to be signed by the end of 2023.
In general, although Saudi Arabia eyes normalization, it has its own preconditions for any deal with Israeli regime that include modern arms provision and help with developing its nuclear program. But currently neither the Americans want to yield to the Saudi conditions nor the Israelis are willing to make further concessions. Now it remains to see if bin Salman quits normalization case altogether or continues his game with the uncompromising Israelis until securing his favored privileges.