Iran Deal Spurs Regional Rivalries

We are already beginning to see sweeping implications stemming from the proposed nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran in the Middle East and around the globe. Specifically, Iran’s regional rivals are starting to see the ten year delay on the country’s nuclear program as their window of opportunity to catch up with their own weapons programs. Saudi Arabia, likely the strongest opponent of a nuclearized Iran alongside Israel, is first on the list according to the Wall Street Journal. High-level officials have joined public outcry in commenting on the Kingdom’s plan for nuclear weapons: “We prefer a region without nuclear weapons. But if Iran does it, nothing can prevent us from doing it too, not even the international community,” said Abdullah al Askar, a member and former chairman of the foreign affairs committee of Saudi Arabia’s advisory legislature. “Our leaders will never allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon while we don’t,” added Ibrahim al-Marie, a retired Saudi colonel and a security analyst in Riyadh. “If Iran declares a nuclear weapon, we can’t afford to wait 30 years more for our own—we should be able to declare ours within a week.” Striking a similar note, scholar Prince Faisal bin Saud bin Abdulmohsen has stated, “Should Iran gain the ability to produce weapons-grade uranium and ability to deploy such weapons, developing a Saudi capability in response would be considered as part of our homeland security.” Various Gulf monarchs are slated to discuss their concerns about the Iran deal and their request for more robust U.S. security guarantees at a meeting with President Obama at Camp David this week. Conspicuously absent is the Saudi King, who has cancelled at the last minute in an apparent snub over the Iran deal. According to CSIS’s Jon Alterman, the move provides a hidden opportunity, “because senior U.S. officials will have an unusual opportunity to take the measure of Mohammed bin Salman, the very young Saudi defense minister and deputy crown prince,” who will attend in King Salman’s stead, and with whom Western officials have almost no experience. If the country is ultimately convinced it needs to pursue nuclear weapons, developing a program is no small feat. The Wall Street Journal reports that Saudi Arabia’s neighbor and close ally Jordan holds the region’s largest uranium reserves but lacks the resources to extract them, creating a potential partnership. The KSA’s typically deep pockets could help in this regard, but the country has been burning through its foreign reserves at a record rate, having eliminated five percent of its nest egg in the past two months. The viability of starting a nuclear weapons program from scratch would likely hinge on where oil prices go in the medium term, but Saudi Arabia has other options. The country has been financing up to 60 percent of Pakistan’s weapons program, with the understanding that it can purchase a warhead on short order should the need arise. A nuclearized Middle East will presumably tighten tensions in the world’s most politically charged region, with unknown impacts for oil price volatility and the global risk premium.