While Israel is focused on Iran, nuclear danger is rearing its head elsewhere
Experts warn that if Iran achieves its nuclear goal, Israel must prepare for the possibility of Pakistan providing Saudi Arabia with atomic warheads or the knowledge and means necessary to speedily create one on its own.
By Tamir Morag
Published on 08-03-2022 16:15
Last modified: 08-03-2022 16:15
Far from the eye of the media, and perhaps even the focus of Israeli lawmakers – who are preoccupied with Iran, and rightfully so – a nuclear threat is developing much closer to home, with former senior defense and intelligence official warning of the political alliance between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
According to sources, in the event Iran achieves its nuclear goal, Israel must prepare for the possibility of Pakistan providing Saudi Arabia with atomic warheads or the knowledge and means necessary to speedily create one on its own.
Although a nuclear Saudi Arabia might not be a threat as great to Israel as Iran, the scenario in which Riyadh becomes a nuclear power is dangerous for several reasons. First, because it is an undemocratic country with a significant presence of elements with Islamist worldviews, and its government can change, with an anti-Israel one possibly rising in its wake, as has happened in other countries in the past, including Iran. Second, there is no guarantee that Riyadh’s interests will forever remain aligned with Israel. And third, such a move by Saudi Arabia will prompts other countries in the Middle East, such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey, to obtain atomic weapons of their own, turning the entire region into a nuclear powder keg.
In 2019, Yoel Gozansky, senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies and formerly head of the Iran and Persian Gulf department at Israel’s National Security Council, wrote an article on Saudi-Pakistani ties, saying it was “the only article written in Hebrew in recent years on the ties between the two countries, and this fact indicates the lack of sufficient attention to the issue in Israel.”
In his work, Gozhansky explains that the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is long-standing and extremely close, so much so that they were previously described by Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, who served as the head of Saudi intelligence, as one of the closest relationships that exists between two countries in the world.
The basis for such an alliance is mutual benefit. Pakistan is the second-most populous Muslim country in the world, with about 215 million, of which about 85% are Sunnis, which counters the influence of Shiite Iran. In turn, Saudi Arabia provides Pakistan with massive economic aid and investments worth billions of dollars and is given a central role in the safeguarding of holy Islam sites, as well as political influence in the Persian Gulf.
Developing an “Islamic bomb” with Saudi funding, but on Pakistani soil, enables Riyadh to avoid international pressure. At the same time, Pakistan gains deterrence against arch-rival India.
“The close relationship between Riyadh and Islamabad is a vital strategic issue, which, unfortunately, is not very well-known in Israel,” Gozhansky told Israel Hayom. “Saudi Arabia has invested quite a bit of money in Pakistan, especially its nuclear program, and, of course, wants to receive something in return. In turn, Pakistan sees itself as the protector of Saudi Arabia and guardian of the holy Islam places, and over the years it’s made public statements making it clear it would stand by it in the face of external threats.”
“The two countries’ militaries train together and there is even an unofficial tradition in which senior members of the Pakistani army who take off their uniforms, including chiefs of staff, are invited to Saudi Arabia where they receive prestigious positions and live a life of luxury. This is a very complex relationship that has had some ups and downs – primarily against the backdrop of the Saudi disappointment with the limited Pakistani aid against the Houthi rebels in Yemen – but the bottom line is that it remains extremely deep even today.”
Gozhansky concluded, “As such, the transfer of nuclear warheads from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia is a plausible scenario. This is not the only possibility, but the State of Israel must prepare for it and take it all into account. It worries me personally because we seem to only look to Iran and miss significant things along the way. Despite the warming ties, we must understand that not all of Saudi Arabia’s interests align with ours, and therefore Saudi nuclear preoccupation, most of which is hidden from view, should greatly worry Israel.”