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Will Riyadh Get the Bomb?

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As the impasse over Tehran’s nuclear program worsens, those most likely to be directly effected by an Iranian bomb are showing greater alarm.

While the media fixates on Israel and its possible reaction, other regional players have no less at stake.

Despite Riyadh’s long-held advocacy of making the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, there has been much speculation in the last two decades about the possibility of its acquiring or developing nuclear weapons should Tehran obtain the bomb.[1] In the words of King Abdullah: “If Iran developed nuclear weapons … everyone in the region would do the same,”[2] a sentiment echoed by Prince Turki al-Faisal, former head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate.[3] Has Riyadh decided to go down the nuclear road, or is this bluster a desperate bid to stop Tehran’s nuclear program dead in its tracks?

Why Go Nuclear?

A major deterioration in U.S.-Saudi relations—especially if Washington fails to stop Tehran’s nuclear program or decides to scale back its military presence in the Middle East due to its recent energy discoveries—could force Riyadh to reconsider nuclear weapon acquisition to avoid having to face foreign aggression without U.S. security assurances. However, the relationship between Riyadh and Washington has thus far provided the Saudis with an unprecedented level of protection. From Washington’s perspective, conventional wisdom holds that U.S. security commitments can keep Iran in check, prevent U.S. allies in the Middle East from submitting to Tehran’s demands, and dissuade them from pursuing nuclear weapons. Yet both the willingness and the ability of the U.S. government to defend its partners in the region against a nuclear-armed Iran have been questioned.[4] As an Israeli observer argued recently:

The lack of American will to confront the ayatollahs and stop them in their tracks has given various Arab leaders plenty of incentive, as well as a good excuse, to proceed down the nuclear trail … If the Iranians aren’t stopped, and soon, we may wake up a few years from now to discover that Saudi Arabia and other unfriendly regimes have decided to upgrade their “civilian” nuclear programs into weapons-making industries.[5]

Additionally, the Saudis are increasingly nervous about the strength of any U.S. commitment in light of the Obama administration’s abandonment of such a long-standing regional ally as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.[6]

The second issue is a mirror image of the first, namely, the concern over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. In February 2012, one senior Saudi source told the London Times:

There is no intention currently to pursue a unilateral military nuclear programme but the dynamics will change immediately if the Iranians develop their own nuclear capability … Politically, it would be completely unacceptable to have Iran with a nuclear capability and not the kingdom.[7]

Abdulaziz Sager, head of the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center, argues that the consequences of Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons would result in

turning Iran into a hegemonic power over the [Persian Gulf] states of the region, through its control of Iraq, its holding fast to the continued occupation of the UAE’s [United Arab Emirates] islands, and its intervention in the domestic affairs of countries in the region through the agitated Shiite groups in these countries, which could push the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council], namely Saudi Arabia, to seek, in turn, the acquisition of a nuclear weapon to confront Iran.[8]

Riyadh is most concerned about Iran’s ambitions especially because it and many other Gulf states have substantial Shiite populations that could potentially become radicalized were a nuclear-empowered Iran to step up its incitement.[9] Many analysts argue that in the event of an Iranian nuclear breakout, Riyadh would feel compelled to build or acquire its own nuclear arsenal. Given Saudi Arabia’s vast wealth and strategic weakness, such a decision might seem logical.[10] Riyadh’s perception of the Iranian threat as serious and immediate was recently expressed by Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal:

Sanctions are a long-term solution … But we are looking at an Iranian nuclear program within a shorter term because we are closer to the locus of the threat. We are interested in immediate rather than in gradual solutions.[11]

Diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks reveal that King Abdullah privately warned Washington in 2008 that if Iran developed nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia would do the same.[12]

A third factor in the Saudi calculus is Israel’s nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.[13] Given Israel’s status as an assumed but undeclared nuclear weapons state, the most immediate consequence of Tehran’s crossing the nuclear threshold would be the emergence of an unstable bipolar nuclear competition in the Middle East.[14] Were Israel to end this ambiguity and admit its possession of nuclear weapons, this might provide a form of deterrence against Iran, which in turn will increase the pressure on Riyadh to acquire its own deterrent vis-à-vis both countries.[15]

Finally, domestic factors must be taken into account. So far, King Abdullah and even Crown Prince Salman favor the continuation of military cooperation with the United States, but the two suffer from old age and poor health, and a change at the top of the pyramid could have a decisive impact on this issue. However, there has long been speculation that the royal family is divided over the nuclear issue. Former intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal favors a secret nuclear program for military uses in cooperation with Pakistan and is supported in this by Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, director of the Saudi intelligence agency and former ambassador to the United States. In contrast to the hawks in Riyadh, there is also a group, headed by Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, which opposes establishing a secret nuclear military program reliant on Pakistan and prefers to be defended against Iran under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.[16]

Consumption and Constraints

Perhaps a more critical factor in the nuclear equation is Saudi Arabia’s economic outlook. The country depends almost exclusively on oil export revenues to develop its economy. Jareer Elass and Amy Myers Jaffe of the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University contend that

It is in the Kingdom’s long-term geopolitical and security interests to maintain its leadership role in the global oil arena. Riyadh’s ability to threaten other oil producers that it could flood the oil market is a critical aspect buttressing its leadership role inside OPEC [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] and gives the country regional clout as well. Saudi Arabia’s ability to single-handedly alter the price of oil gives the Kingdom significant geopolitical power, and it has used its ability to lower the price of oil to its geopolitical advantage on many occasions over the decades. With this oil superpower stature comes much of the global influence that Saudi Arabia enjoys on the international stage.[17]

But the kingdom is an oil-consumer as well as a producer. Burning oil for electricity production currently consumes about a quarter of the crude oil Saudi Arabia produces, which could have very serious implications for the future.[18] In 2011, Saudi Arabia consumed an average of 2.87 million barrels per day (mb/d).[19] The country needs to find at least another 20 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity by 2020 to add to its existing 40 GW if it is to meet projected demand.[20] As the GCC’s largest economy, Saudi Arabia has more reason than most to turn to nuclear power.

According to analysts at Riyadh-based Jadwa Investment, oil demand in the kingdom rose by 22 percent between 2007 and 2010, outpacing China’s oil demand growth rate despite the latter’s economy expanding almost three times as fast.[21] While official data shows Saudi oil consumption rising by more than 5 percent a year in 2003-10 to an average of 2.4 mb/d in 2010,[22] analysts at British Petroleum put it at 2.85 mb/d in 2011,[23] (see Tables 1 and 2) making Saudi Arabia the world’s sixth-largest oil consumer. On a per capita basis, its oil consumption is sky-high;[24] its consumption in 2011 is set to jump by 5.6 percent, way above the global average of 1.4 percent.[25]

Some economists argue that if Saudi Arabia’s energy consumption continues at its current rate, within twenty years the kingdom will burn the equivalent of almost all its recent daily output—more than 8 mb/d —or around two-thirds its total production capacity.[26] Citigroup goes further to say that Riyadh could be an oil importer by 2030. Oil and its derivatives account for 50 percent of Saudi electricity production, mostly for residential use. According to Citigroup analysis, if nothing changes, the Saudis may have no available oil for export by 2030.[27] The head of Saudi Aramco has admitted that unless internal demand is controlled, the amount of oil left for export could fall to less than 7 mb/d by 2028.[28] Jadwa Investment paints an even bleaker picture, declaring that the kingdom could face a serious revenue crisis within the current decade, forced to cut exports to meet rising demand. By 2020, it expects exports available for the global market to fall to less than 5 mb/d.[29]

(Table 1): Saudi Oil Production Demand (2001-2011 million barrels per day)

 

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Production

9,15

8,87

10,10

10,56

11,03

10,77

10,37

10,76

9,80

9,95

11,16

Consumption

1,62

1,66

1,78

1,91

1,97

2,04

2,16

2,33

2,55

2,74

2,85

Source: Adapted from BP Statistical Review of World Energy, (June 2012), pp. 8-9.

Given rising spending needs, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated the break-even oil price for Saudi crude in 2011 to be US$80 a barrel, a rise of US$30 a barrel from three years ago; this would increase to US$98 by 2016.[30] The Washington-based Institute of International Finance suggested that Saudi Arabia will need at least US$110 for oil by 2015 to balance its budget.[31] But even these figures look conservative; the sheer scale of the kingdom’s spending commitments now necessitates a substantially higher oil price.[32]

It is within this context that Riyadh’s recently declared intention to launch its own nuclear program makes sense. In December 2011, Abdullah Zainal, minister of commerce and industry, announced that the equivalent of US$100 billion would be spent on building sixteen nuclear power plants to generate electricity in different parts of the kingdom.[33] Riyadh has signed nuclear technology agreements with several states for research reactors and nuclear power plants. Abdullah M. al-Shehri, governor of the Electricity and Co-Generation Regulatory Authority (ECRA), recently outlined Saudi Arabia’s road map in building its nuclear capabilities for peaceful means:

First, we need to secure international cooperation; second, come up with long-term planning; third, study the required safety measures mandated by the international community; fourth, ensure we have the needed fuel supply; and fifth, we must prepare a national work force that is educated in nuclear engineering and operation.[34]

Such projects would, however, enable the Saudis to enrich uranium. With the aid of their Sunni allies in Pakistan, they could then obtain knowledge of bomb-making capabilities and the relevant technologies.[35]

Saudi nuclear ambitions crystallized in the run-up to the 2009 Copenhagen summit when it was realized that global efforts to control climate change could end up punishing countries that put off including non-carbon-based energy sources in their power portfolios.[36] According to the World Trade Organization, the Saudi economy is increasingly dependent on international trade: The ratio of merchandise and services trade (exports and imports) to gross domestic product (GDP) rose from 88.7 percent in 2005 to a peak of 104.9 percent in 2008 and reached 97.4 percent in 2010. Riyadh’s export base is highly concentrated in fuels (petroleum and gas). The share of fuels in total merchandise exports depends largely on the evolution of world oil prices and Riyadh’s quota production within OPEC. In value terms, the share of fuels in total merchandise exports (including re-exports) went from 89.5 percent in 2005 to 85.7 percent in 2010.[37]

(Table 2): Saudi Break Even Oil Forecast at Current Spending Patterns

 

2005

2010

2015F

2020F

2025F

2030F

Oil Indicators (million barrels per day)

Oil Production

9.4

8.2

9.3

10

10.7

11.5

Oil Exports

7.5

5.8

6.3

6

5.6

4.9

Domestic Consumption

1.9

2.4

3.1

3.9

5.1

6.5

Breakeven Oil Price (US$ per barrel)

Saudi Export Crude

30.3

71.6

90.7

118.5

175.1

321.7

Source: Adapted from Brad Bourland and Paul Gamble, “Saudi Arabia’s coming oil and fiscal challenge,” (Jadwa Investment, Riyadh), July 2011, p. 24. F= forecast

Third Party Connections

There have been suggestions that, rather than develop an indigenous nuclear program, Saudi Arabia would simply seek to buy nuclear warheads from Pakistan or China. According to a news media report, Riyadh is beefing up its military links with Islamabad to counter Tehran’s expansionist plans either by acquiring atomic weapons from Islamabad or a pledge of nuclear cover,[38] a claim also reported earlier in The Guardian.[39]

Alternatively, Pakistan might offer a deterrent guarantee by deploying its own nuclear weapons, delivery systems, and troops on Saudi territory. This arrangement could be particularly appealing to both Riyadh and Islamabad, allowing the Saudis to argue that they are not violating the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT) since the weapons would not be theirs. A Pakistani presence might also be preferable to a U.S. one because stationing Muslim forces on Saudi soil would not trigger the kind of opposition that has in the past accompanied the deployment of “infidel” U.S. troops.[40]

Despite these rumors, the Pakistanis know as well as anyone that the principal threats to the security and stability of Saudi Arabia are domestic against which nuclear weapons have no value but rather might stir up more trouble than they alleviate. But, a good Pakistani working relationship with Washington is essential. The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009 (also known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill) authorized a massive increase in U.S. civilian assistance to Islamabad, tripling it to US$1.5 billion a year.[41] In spite of tensions between the two states, Pakistan remains keen on developing its relationship with Washington, and continued proliferation of nuclear technology is unlikely to encourage either economic or military aid.[42] Indeed, selling complete nuclear weapons would come at great political cost. Islamabad might forfeit U.S. foreign assistance and drive Washington into closer cooperation with its mortal enemy India.[43]

Providing Riyadh with a Pakistani nuclear umbrella would also increase the likelihood of convergence between New Delhi and Tehran as both nations might view the move as part of a larger Sunni threat. In addition, Saudi nuclear acquisition could prompt a preventive strike by Israel—especially if the sale became known before the weapon was activated. Finally, although relations with Islamabad are improving, the House of Saud has no great trust in Pakistan’s intentions; on the contrary, many of the WikiLeaks documents revealed Saudi dissatisfaction with Pakistani politicians and policies.[44]

In theory, the Saudis could pursue a nuclear option with the Chinese, but in the current strategic environment, it is hard to imagine this as a realistic scenario. Beijing and Riyadh have never had close military relations largely because Washington has provided the Saudis with advanced military equipment as well as security assurances against international threats that China cannot provide. While Beijing and Washington do not see eye-to-eye on many issues, including the severity of the Iranian threat, it is unlikely that Beijing would jeopardize its trade and other relations with Washington by supplying the Saudis with nuclear weapons.

Additionally, China is a member of the NPT system and thus obliged “not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any nonnuclear weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices.”[45] Under the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act of 1994, Beijing would face revocation of the U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement it worked so hard to secure, as well as the possible imposition of economic sanctions, if it were deemed to have “aided or abetted” the acquisition of nuclear weapons.[46]

If U.S.-Saudi relations should falter, the Chinese would doubtless view it as an opportunity to take a more active role in Saudi affairs. However, there is no evidence suggesting that this relationship will sour in the near future; in fact, as shall be seen, it is clearly improving.

Domestic Constraints

Technical barriers for entry into the nuclear club are high, and it is difficult for states to completely hide a clandestine military program from foreign intelligence observers. For example, the West successfully (albeit belatedly) detected Tehran’s secret uranium enrichment facility constructed in tunnels under a mountain near Qom.[47] Indeed, many analysts believe that Riyadh’s talk about developing nuclear arms may be more intended to focus Western attention on its concerns about regional risks than to indicate any kind of definitive action to go nuclear.[48]

It is unlikely that the Saudis would want to proliferate at the present time; doing so would deeply strain the U.S.-Saudi relationship, perhaps to an irrevocable degree.[49] Doing so would also place Riyadh in breach of a memorandum of understanding signed with Washington in 2008, promising U.S. assistance with civilian nuclear power on condition that Riyadh not pursue “sensitive nuclear technologies.”[50] Riyadh’s desire to maintain a strong relationship with Washington, especially in light of the royal family’s desire to prevent unconventional terrorism within its borders, inhibits any strong appetite to develop nuclear weapons.[51]

There is also strong evidence that Washington is committed to defending Saudi Arabia. President Obama notified Congress on October 20, 2010, of the largest ever arms sales to Riyadh, including the proposed sale of fighter aircraft and upgrades to existing Saudi fighter aircraft, attack and utility helicopters, and related weaponry and services. If all options are exercised, the proposed sales may be worth more than $60 billion dollars over a period of ten to fifteen years.[52] The Saudis will also get help with training, logistics, and maintenance. The Obama administration hopes the sales will help “sustain long-term relationships to ensure continued U.S. influence for decades,”[53] or as the Economist put it:

the package of sales would not only tilt the balance of conventional weaponry in the Gulf decisively against Iran, whose suspected bid to acquire atomic bombs frightens its Gulf neighbors as well as Israel and the West. It would signal the return to normal of America’s tight, 70-year-long alliance with Saudi Arabia. This had frayed following the revelation that 15 of the 19 hijackers who attacked American cities on September 11, 2001, were Saudi nationals. Fearing congressional opposition, Saudi Arabia had in recent years sought weaponry from other sources.[54]

Riyadh will also feel more secure from Tehran’s missile capabilities once it acquires the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. This system is intended for shooting down short-, medium-, and intermediate range ballistic missiles in their terminal phase, using a “hit-to-kill” approach. At the same time, a potential $30 billion upgrade of the Saudi navy would greatly strengthen the latter’s power projection in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. Ultimately, the U.S. arms package will increase Riyadh’s confidence and capabilities in countering Tehran’s rising power in the Middle East.[55]

Further, the character of the Saudi establishment militates against taking the drastic step of nuclear proliferation; the House of Saud is simply too conservative to undertake such a bold and controversial step. As Thomas Lippman argued,

The Saudis’ weapons of choice are cash and diplomacy. It is difficult to imagine the princes of the House of Saud deliberately positioning themselves as global outliers and inviting reprisal from countries capable of inflicting serious damage on them.[56]

Journalist Richard Nield has noted that Riyadh has committed itself to a major industrialization and economic diversification campaign that will require sustained engagement with the rest of the world. “It’s not rational that they would jeopardise this in favour of a preemptive strike against the theoretical possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran.”[57] The same idea is echoed by Kate Amlin, who believes that Saudi leaders would not want to incur the political and economic backlash resulting from pursuit of a nuclear arsenal at a time when they are trying to integrate further into the international economy.[58]

Finally, it would take many years and considerable financial cost for Riyadh to develop nuclear weapons. There exists a relatively strong consensus regarding the immature state of the Saudi nuclear technology infrastructure. The country lacks the human expertise and technical knowledge necessary to develop a nuclear weapons program on its own.[59] It does not operate nuclear power facilities, and its scientists do not have the necessary experience to enrich uranium for reactor fuel, to convert nuclear fuel, or operate nuclear reactors.[60] A recent Citigroup report warns that several complex issues are likely to result in delays to Saudi Arabia’s target nuclear power launch of 2019:[61] the lack of available nuclear power experts; cost overruns or high capital costs, and above all, plant safety risks such as keeping plants cool in desert conditions since there is no history of successful execution in such conditions.[62] According to Citigroup, the “safest location for a nuclear plant in Saudi Arabia is deep in the desert between Riyadh and Jeddah. Water would have to be piped over 30 miles to this region and under conditions that keep the pipes and plants cool.”[63]

There have, however, been clear signs recently of the Saudis’ intent to enter the nuclear arena. In June 2010, the kingdom commissioned Finnish management consultancy Poyry to offer a strategy for nuclear and renewable energy use and to study the economic and technical feasibility of becoming involved in all aspects of the nuclear power chain, including uranium enrichment.[64] Earlier that year, the Saudi government said it planned to build a new technology centre, the King Abdullah City for Nuclear and Renewable Energies, in Riyadh.[65] Despite this, it will be years before it is developed. In a 2007 visit to Saudi Arabia, Mohammed ElBaradei, then-director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, estimated that the Saudi nuclear civilian plan might take up to fifteen years.[66]

Conclusion

Given that it is the world’s top oil exporter, handling a nuclear Saudi Arabia would be a delicate manner. But, at least for now, the Saudis have no alternative but to rely on a U.S. defense umbrella. Still, it would be contrary to Riyadh’s practice to put all its eggs in one basket. Thus, the kingdom will work in two parallel routes, strengthening its military, particularly the air force and navy, and aggressively seeking to buy the civilian nuclear technology that will in the future provide the technical capacity and human resources for dealing with nuclear weapons.

Riyadh is currently linked to arms deals with Washington for at least the next decade. It could also take a decade to develop the potential human and technical resources needed for a civilian nuclear program. At present there is no solid evidence that Riyadh has taken firm steps to go down this route, nor is there any evidence of Saudi acquisition of weapons of mass destruction

Overall, though not insurmountable, the obstacles to Saudi nuclearization are considerable. Much depends on Tehran’s ambitions and the West’s determination to stymie them.

Naser al-Tamimi is a U.K.-based Middle East analyst with research interest in energy politics and Middle East-Asia relations. He holds a PhD degree in International Relations from Durham University, U.K.

[1] Robert Shuey and Shirley A. Kan, “Chinese Missile and Nuclear Proliferation: Issues for Congress,” U.S. Congressional Research Service, Nov. 16 , 1995; The New York Times, July 10, 1999; The Guardian (London), Sept. 18, 2003; The Washington Times, Oct. 21, 2003; Dan Blumenthal. “Providing Arms: China and the Middle East,” Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2005, pp. 11-9; Cicero (Hamburg), Mar. 28, 2006; Ha’aretz (Tel Aviv), May 30, 2012.
[2] The Guardian, June 29, 2011.
[3] Reuters, Dec. 6, 2011.
[4] Eric S. Edelman, Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., and Evan Braden Montgomery, “The Dangers of a Nuclear Iran,” Foreign Affairs, Jan./Feb. 2011, pp. 66-81.
[5] Michael Freund, “When Saudi Arabia Goes Nuclear,” The Jerusalem Post, Apr. 29, 2010.
[6] The Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2011.
[7] The Times (London), Feb. 10, 2012.
[8] Abdulaziz Sager, “Alwady’a fi al-khaleej: Derasa Isteshrafeya 2025,” paper presented to the Manama (Bahrain) Development Forum, Feb. 8-9, 2008, in al-Wasat News (Bahrain), Feb. 13, 2008.
[9] “Saudi Arabia Defense and Security Report Q1,” Business Monitor International (London), Jan. 2011, p. 55.
[10] Thomas W. Lippman, “Nuclear Weapons and Saudi Strategy,” Middle East Institute, Policy Brief, no. 5, Jan. 2008.
[11] Associated Press, Feb. 15, 2010.
[12] The Guardian, June, 29, 2011.
[13]Avoiding a Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East,” Report to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Washington, D.C., Feb. 2008.
[14] Edelman, Krepinevich, and Montgomery, “The Dangers of a Nuclear Iran,” pp. 66-81.
[15] Kathleen J. McInnis, “Extended Deterrence: The U.S. Credibility Gap in the Middle East,” The Washington Quarterly, Summer 2005, pp. 169-86.
[16] Ha’aretz, Sept. 8, 2011.
[17] Jareer Elass and Amy Myers Jaffe, “Iraqi Oil Potential and Implications for Global Oil Markets and OPEC Politics,” James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, Rice University, July 2011.
[18] Mark Hibbs, “Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Ambitions,” Carnegie Endowment, Washington, D.C., July 20, 2010.
[19] “Oil Market Report,” International Energy Agency, Paris, Nov. 13, 2012.
[20] Petroleum Economist (London), Dec. 14, 2010.
[21] Brad Bourland and Paul Gamble, “Saudi Arabia’s Coming Oil and Fiscal Challenge,” Jadwa Investment, Riyadh, July 2011.
[22] Reuters, Oct. 12, 2011.
[23] “BP Statistical Review of World Energy Report,” British Petroleum, London, June 2012, p. 9.
[24] Bourland and Gamble, “Saudi Arabia’s coming oil and fiscal challenge.”
[25] Financial Times (London), Feb. 28 2011.
[26] The Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2011.
[27] Heidy Rehman, “Saudi Petrochemicals: The End of the Magic Porridge Pot?” Citigroup, London, Sept. 2012, p. 1.
[28] Reuters, Oct. 12, 2011.
[29] Bourland and Gamble, “Saudi Arabia’s Coming Oil and Fiscal Challenge.”
[30] “Regional Economic Outlook: Middle East and Central Asia,” International Monetary Fund, Washington, D.C., Sept. 2011, p. 22.
[31] Elass and Jaffe, “Iraqi Oil Potential.”
[32] Middle East Economic Digest (MEED, Dubai and London), Dec. 23, 2011.
[33] Al-Akhbar (Beirut), Feb. 9, 2012.
[34] Saudi Gazette (Riyadh), Feb. 22, 2012.
[35] The Daily Mail (London), Feb. 24, 2012.
[36] Saurav Jha, “China’s ‘Third Island’ Strategy,” World Politics Review, Jan. 6, 2010.
[37] “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Trade Policy Review, World Trade Organization, Geneva, Dec. 21, 2011.
[38] United Press International, Sept. 15, 2011.
[39] The Guardian, May 11, 2010.
[40] Edelman, Krepinevich, and Montgomery, “The Dangers of a Nuclear Iran,” pp. 90-1.
[41] Alexander Evans, “Pakistan and the Shadow of 9/11,” RUSI Journal, Aug./Sept. 2011, pp. 64-70.
[42] “Saudi Arabia Defense and Security Report Q4,” Business Monitor International, Jan. 2012, p. 66.
[43] James M. Lindsay and Ray Takeyh, “After Iran Gets the Bomb: Containment and Its Complications,” Foreign Affairs, Mar./Apr. 2010, pp. 33-49.
[44] See, for example, Associated Press, Dec. 3, 2010.
[45] Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs, New York, July 1, 1968, art. I.
[46] Lippman, “Nuclear Weapons and Saudi Strategy.”
[47] Ian Jackson, “Nuclear Energy and Proliferation Risks: Myths and Realities in the Persian Gulf,” International Affairs, Nov. 2009, p. 1157.
[48] The Guardian, June 29, 2011.
[49] Sammy Salama and Gina Cabrera Farraj, “Secretary General of Arab League urges Arab countries to exploit nuclear power, enter ‘nuclear club'” WMD Insights, May 2006.
[50] The Times, Feb. 10, 2012.
[51] Kate Amlin, “Will Saudi Arabia Acquire Nuclear Weapons?” James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies, Washington, D.C., Aug. 1, 2008.
[52] “The Middle East: Selected Key Issues and Options for the 112th Congress,” U.S. Congressional Research Service, Washington, D.C., report R41556, Jan. 3, 2011, p. 6.
[53] The New York Times, Dec. 29, 2011.
[54] The Economist (London), Sept. 15, 2010.
[55] Business Monitor International, Sept. 14, 2010.
[56] Lippman, “Nuclear Weapons and Saudi Strategy.”
[57] MEED, Dec. 17, 2010.
[58] Amlin, “Will Saudi Arabia Acquire Nuclear Weapons?”
[59]Avoiding a Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East,” Report to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Washington, D.C., Feb. 2008.
[60] Yana Feldman, “Saudi Arabia Country Profile: Nuclear Facilities Profiles,” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, July 2004.
[61] Rehman, “Saudi Petrochemicals: The End of the Magic Porridge Pot?” p. 36.
[62] Ibid, p. 35.
[63] Ibid.
[64] “Saudi Arabia: Going Nuclear,” Country Monitor, Economist Intelligence Unit, London, June 7, 2010.
[65] Petroleum Economist, Dec. 14, 2010.
[66] The New York Times, Apr. 15, 2007.

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Middle East

Americans return to Syria for oil

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Soon after the adoption of the Russian-Turkish Memorandum on Syria, President Trump, known for his “consistency” in decision-making, made it clear that he had no intention of withdrawing US troops, which had already been moved to Iraq, from the east of Syria. The reason for the US forces to stay on is the need to protect the local oil reserves against the “Islamic State” (which is prohibited in the Russian Federation). The American president even reflected on which company should be contracted to produce Syrian oil, eventually opting for ExxonMobil (who else!).

The Pentagon spoke to this effect as well, in more concrete terms. The oil of northeast Syria will go to the allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), – said US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, adding: “We want to make sure that the SDF have access to these resources, in order to guard prisons and arm their own units . Our mission is to ensure the safety of the deposits.” When asked by reporters whether Syrian and Russian forces would have access to these resources, Esper answered in the negative. Thus, the United States has yet again demonstrated that they do not deem themselves bound by international law. At the same time, they confirmed the American so-called “businesslike” approach to international problems.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly insisted that Syrian oil should belong to the Syrian people. Speaking at a press conference following the recent meeting with Turkish and Iranian counterparts, Sergey Lavrov said: the United States plans to protect Syrian oil from Syria.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Americans found it normal to trade in Syrian oil before. Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, the United States extracts oil using de facto “contraband” equipment that was brought on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic bypassing American sanctions. According to the Russian military, revenue from these transactions exceeds $ 30 million per month.

Compared to neighbors, Syria is far from an “oil giant.” Its developed reserves amount to about 2.5 billion barrels, while Saudi Arabia has reserves of 268 billion, Iran – 158 billion, Iraq – 144 billion, Kuwait – 104 billion, UAE – 98 billion barrels. Oil reserves in Syria are not that abundant for the US to “cling” to them. So what’s the matter?

Only a fraction of oil reserves are located on the territory liberated by the Syrian army and its allies, the lion’s share of the reserves is controlled by SDF units (and the Americans, of course). By means of depriving Damascus of oil revenues, which made a major source of the country’s pre-war budget, Washington hopes to weaken Syria’s resistance. In addition, the United States won’t stop short of supporting the Kurdish state. By “gifting” Syrian oil to their political protégés, the Americans encourage the Kurds to refrain from making an alliance with Damascus and continue to act as a counterweight to Turkey and Russia and play the role of an anti-Iranian bastion.

It’s the Americans themselves who will buy this oil. In all likelihood, they will buy it cheap. “I want to bring our soldiers back home, but I want oil too. I’m a civilian, I don’t understand why the war in Iraq was needed at all. If my people go to Iraq, let them at least keep the oil,” – Donald Trump shared his thoughts not so long ago,  criticizing the policies of his predecessors. Bashar al-Assad responded by describing Trump as “the best American president ever” because he is the most transparent and honest.” “He says he wants oil, and that’s absolutely true – it’s  American policy,” –  the Syrian leader concluded.

Simultaneously, while maintaining control of the oil fields, the Americans continue to “punish” Ankara for its “excessive” independence in international affairs. After all, they are not going to pump stolen oil through Turkey, which is trying hard to become the southern energy hub for Europe.

Furthermore, the majority of oil-bearing regions in Syria are populated by Arabs, rather than Kurds. Peshmerga captured the fields during the struggle against the Islamic State, prohibited in Russia. Now, should the Americans change their minds about the “protection” of the oil reserves, they will use this to “explain” their yet another betrayal to the Kurds.

In all likelihood, there will be no serious armed clashes over Syrian oil. The problem could be solved through reaching a power-sharing agreement between Damascus and the Kurds, which means dividing the powers between the central government and the local authorities. The Constitutional Committee, which is currently in session in Geneva, could play an important role to achieve this but for the fact that neither Ankara nor Damascus wants the Committee to comprise representatives of the SDF – a bloc that de facto controls the north-east of the country. As a result, Hikmat Habib the Executive Committee of the Assembly of Democratic Syria said: the outcomes of the Geneva meeting will not mean anything “for the people of northern and eastern Syria” (Kurds – A.I.).

However, Damascus and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been taking  steps towards each other: after the start of another Turkish military operation, the Kurds allowed Syrian troops to enter the territory under their control, while Damascus proposed that peshmerga should become part of the Syrian army. As it happens, chances to maintain the territorial integrity of the country are there for grabs.

From our partner International Affairs

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US-Iran confrontation amid Lebanon, Iraq protests

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The U.S welcomes to spread uprising to Iran and weakening Iran`s influence in Lebanon and Iraq, whereas Iran seeks up political stability in the two countries.

Enormous antigovernment demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon have been the spotlight around the world since last month. People in the two countries are dissatisfied concerning socio-economic problems include mismanagement in urban services, recession, governmental corruption, increasing unemployment, and growing injustice. Both countries have a common factor. Iran is the only country that has an important influence on their governments. So, the country has followed the related happenings carefully.

A few days after the protests, Iranian officials expressed their position. The first man was Amir Abdollahian, who is the special assistant to the speaker of Iran`s parliament. He wrote in his Instagram Page that “yesterday in Yemen, the United States and Saudi Arabia forced the prime minister to resign and failed, as they are currently struggling in quagmire of Yemen” he said then. “Today in Lebanon and Iraq, they also launched the same project of chaos and destroying governments that the new copy of political terrorism will undoubtedly fail.”

But Iran`s president and foreign minister have not said anything about the crisis, although recently Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has blamed the U.S and its allies for spreading “insecurity and turmoil” in Iraq and Lebanon, urging anti-government protesters in both countries to seek changes in a lawful way.

“Their people also have to know that although they have legitimate demands, those demands can be met only through the framework of legal structures,” he added.

In fact, Iraq and Lebanon are very sensitive for Iran. Iraq has a long border with the country and Hezbollah as a proxy force in the south of Lebanon is its security border along Israel. So, any changes in both can be hazardous for Iran`s interests because the country has an effective position in their governing body structures.

On the other side, the U.S has conducted full support to protesters especially in Iraq where some protesters have stated slogans against Iran`s intervention. Some protesters in Karbala attacked Iran`s consulate. Although the socio-economic is the main problem of Iraqis, Iran`s influence had been a side issue and an interesting subject for critics of the Islamic regime.

Iraq`s prime minister has agreed to resign as well as Saad Hariri resigned in Lebanon. In the meantime, governmental media of Iran have attempted to portray that any resign or government changing is a wrong solution for two countries. Just as Seyed Hasan Nasrollah, leader of Hezbollah had disagreed with Hariri`s resign but the U.S has supported to form a new government in Lebanon and Iraq. 

The U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on “Lebanon’s political leaders to urgently facilitate the formation of a new government that can build a stable, prosperous, and secure Lebanon that is responsive to the needs of its citizens.”

Pompeo also sent a message about to accountability necessity of government concerning killed people amid protests in Iraq, unlike Iran that wants to abate the chaos.     

U.S Secretary of State said the Iraqi government’s investigation into the violence in early October “lacked sufficient credibility” and that “the Iraqi people deserve genuine accountability and justice.”

After that, Iranians rail against U.S. Brigadier General Hossein Nejat, who is the deputy of the I.R.G.C`s chief said, “The U.S has invested in the social faults in Iraq and Lebanon.” Still, he said “this is America sedition”

“From a long time ago, Americans had brought many persons from Iraq to America for training, and they formed extensive social media. The U.S wants Iraq to be insecurity intensively until a dictator comes and catches the power,” he added.

Also Mohammad Ali Movahhedi Kermani, Tehran’s provisional Friday prayers leader said that “Based on the available information, the U.S ambassador to Iraq has openly backed the ongoing violence in Iraq and has called on Iraqi police to let such behaviors continue.

Iran has exported its Islamic ideology to some countries in the region such as Iraq and Lebanon in years ago. But now, the economic problems are the most important subject for people of the two countries. That`s why one protester told Foreign Policy that “hungry has no religion.” This sentence has the same meaning Imam Ali`s hadith, Shias’ first Imam that “the poverty is bigger death.” 

Simply put, ideology is not working without money and social welfare. Now, Iran is under tough sanctions by America and its people have economic problems with high-level inflation. But the U.S and its allies have more chance to increase influence in two countries in terms of the economic situation. The U.S has aided $1.5 billion to Lebanon`s army since 2005. But according to the WSJ, the financial assistance by the U.S has stopped recently to Lebanon due to Israel`s pressure. WSJ wrote, “The Trump Administration has suspended security assistance to Lebanon, congressional officials said, including more than $100 million for the Lebanese armed forces.”

Also, a meeting held between United States Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In this negotiation, Netanyahu complained that Iran was financing new missile-development activities inside Lebanon for the Hezbollah militant movement.

Several Israeli news organizations reported this week that Mr. Netanyahu has asked government officials to urge allied capitals to impose conditions on their aid to Lebanon to ensure Lebanese officials clamp down on the missile-development activities—one possible reason for a U.S. funding suspension.

In related news, Saudi Arabia as a close ally of The U.S recently has suspended the assistance to Lebanon to weakening the Hezbollah.

“In a way, you bail out Lebanon, you bail out Hezbollah,” said Shafeeq Ghabra, the political science professor at Kuwait University, according to Daily Star.

One Gulf official, who declined to be identified by name when talking about sensitive foreign policy, “Prime Minister Saad Hariri had refused financial help to avoid money going to Hezbollah via the government,” the Daily Star reported too.

Based on some reports, America has suggested rebuilding oil and power Iraq`s facilities instead of Iraq`s companionship with sanctions against Iran. So, Lebanon and Iraq are under economic pressure and both need foreign aids, whereas Iran now has a severe budget shortage. This situation can be a factor to reduce Iran`s influence compared to the U.S in two countries after uprisings.

Analysts said the power-sharing system in the two countries is very important for Iran because the Shiite has a high position currently. Both have different religions and sects. In Iraq, the prime minister is Shiite. Also in Lebanon based on the agreement of 1989, the power divided into religion and sects, such that parliament speaker must be a Shiite Muslim. The current condition is acceptable by Iran because Shia’s power is insured. But protests now are not examples of deep sectarian divisions in two countries. For the first time, the protesters seek the end of sectarian power and power-sharing system. They want to root out corruption by a new government. So, the unprecedented protests can be dangerous for Iran`s investments in the Shiite groups in the region. Due to America’s attempts and some slogans in protests against Iran, it is possible the power of Shiite`s groups in the two countries will be abated finally. 

In fact, The U.S wants the uprising will extend to Iran because Iranians are in the same situation in terms of economic problems, just as Iran`s government is wary about protests infectious power. If Iran`s Shiite allies like Hezbollah and Amal in Lebanon and Al-Hashd Ash-Shabi in Iraq be able to separate Shias from other protesters, its spread range will reduce.

The U.S welcomes to spread uprising to Iran and weakening Iran`s influence in Lebanon and Iraq, whereas Iran seeks up political stability in the two countries. Iran also attempts to say the U.S is behind the protests and insecurity in the two countries is their work.

Lately, Hossein Shariatmadari, the representative of supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei and editor chief of the conservative Kayhan newspaper, wrote addressed to Iraqis that “seize the American and Saudi embassies.”

Some suggested that President Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran has been almost defeated because Iran has not come to the negotiation table so far, so perhaps the protests in Lebanon and Iraq lead to Iran’s surrender.

Nowadays, Iraqis and Lebanon`s people seek up a better future by changing the political structures in their countries. Thinking to welfare, removing the corrupted politicians and protecting their countries from any foreign interference. But amid the protests, the confrontation has begun in two countries between America and Iran but would not finish simply.

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The narrative approach of Lebanon’s uprising

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In Social Politics, intellectuals and scholars are surely defined political protestation as new concept of a social group that operates action together to obtain a political and social outcomes in terms of contemporary democracies, Indeed, some have included currently in Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, and Sudan as a continuation of what happened at the end of 2010 and early 2011 in Egypt and Tunisia, and the events of proxy war in Syria, Yemen, and Libya, or somewhere else as part of the American creative disorder delusively labeled the Arab Spring.

Truly speaking, the current demonstrations in Lebanon are similarly shaped in a form of previous Arab anti-government uprisings scenario due to decisions that are seen as unfair socially and politically taking place within the constitutional process of people interest conciliated by political institutions at affecting public and Scio-cultural processes, which therefore challenge the status quo of which makes what happens in these states out of chaos of the “Arab Spring”, even for the current overturning demonstrations, we find divergences in each state has its own Arab spring based on its social perspective.

For Lebanon, the people demonstration for the second week, provoked by ineffective  of government laws management and unfair situation of handling peoples social needs that affect the standard of million citizens suffering from a serious depreciation in life productivity, hides deep and complicated causes and has several Lebanese specificities and approaches:

First, The sectarian approach, where the masses are clear in their demands to overthrow sectarianism and change all status of the political class, the protestation initiate a auspice of a outbreak against the sectarian system of all sects and indicates that sectarianism rolling party is fully responsible for impoverishing Lebanon’s people and corruption of state institutions and detriment of political standing.

Second, The absence of Islamic party from the scene, might be invisible but Hezbollah and other Islamist groups are highly cautious about the seriousness of out breaking and imperils of other external involved parties pushed to change the current government and destabilized the regime, Therefore, there are unknown reports saying that this uprising in Lebanon is driven by Hezbollah group.

Third, The protestors stick to their commitment to democratic principles and fight all injustice and grievance in the civil state based on citizenship. Besides, despite the absence of clear international stands, particularly from Washington and the West, which is taking place in Lebanon, the Lebanese geopolitics enhances fears of the ability of the Lebanese people to distance themselves from outside interference.

The fourth, The fundamental fuss is not foreign intervention or interference of states’ military, but rather the armed party militias related to the government coalition, whether it is Hezbollah or Christian parties. These militias are much powerful than the Lebanese army itself and it could demount the structure of the army and might provoke a proxy war.

In addition, as a result of these frequent Lebanese popular uprising occurrence is the accumulations of combining the deterioration of the weak economic circumstances with the irresponsible political experience of Lebanese political system and the crisis of democratic strategies of portions or consensus among the sects, rather than a prolonging the disorder of the Arab Spring. In the past decades, Lebanon has seen several bloody uprisings as a form of proxy war in 1958 and 1975 until the Taif Conference 1989.

It is understandable that what is happening in Lebanon or even the Arab Middle East region is based on mal-political calculations in resolving the current economic grievances and socio-cultural standards. it is clear to perceive the root of the Lebanese sectarian system which is based on confessionalism power-sharing system and the historical setting of its functioning, and before the digression came in the discourse of defining the political sectarianism as subjective context it is “an exchange of social-political system, focus on the handling of the individual part of the religious group in his political positions, and formed as sectarianism political sect of the state “.The Lebanese state emerged in 1920. unlike the rest of the Arab states from the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and as Britain’s delegate to Palestine committed itself to the Balfour Declaration that grants a state to the Jews in Palestine, Also France committed itself to make Lebanon as a sole for Christians, especially the Maronites, who constituted the majority of the population. So the separation or portion in several positions six for Christians and five for Muslims and the rest of the religious sects. Thus, the unwritten legislative charter agreed in 1943 was based on sectarian sharing power politics between Muslims and Christians within the constitutional and for the rest of the high ranking positions, with the head of state is a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, the speaker of the House of Representatives a Shiite Muslim.

Accordingly, At the 1989 Taif conference, which came after the proxy war, there was unsubstantial change that was recognized to be fifty per cent for each party within Lebanon the parliament, with the extension of the sectarian dominance and covenants to overcome it to change Lebanon from a sectarian democracy status based on portions into a modern democracy that blackout sectarianism, but this did not Politicalized sectarianism in order to be reinforced by a social sectarianism that was overtaken by all modern societies. Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Palestine.

This is quite superficial with regards to the past decades, the Status of Lebanon was able to extend a formula of inter-communal coexistence within the framework of so-called “sectarian democracy”, As a matter of fact,  the outbreak of the 1975 proxy war, and with the exception of the events of 1958, Lebanon was qualified to live in stability with economic and cultural prosperity and more importantly openness to all states of the world. Therefore, the great Palestinian refugee in the camps resulting from the 1948 war did not confuse the internal political balances.

With a new chapter turned in this formula of sectarian power-sharing system, the sectarian quota democracy creating a transitional step through the democracy of Lebanon citizenship that denies sectarianism and power-sharing which enhancing the confessionalism political system in accordance with to the sectarian representatives of the communities. this sharing power formula becomes the property or the estate of the confessionalism sect, especially its high ranking men, and the appointed Politicians have chosen by the sect to sustain in their positions without accountability or responsibility, though each sect has become like a state within a state, with its areas of influence and armed militias, these sects can maintain foreign relations as the legitimate state symbolized protecting entity of sectarianism, and attempts to inclusive development were confronted with the interests of communities and external alliances, as the law of recognized state of Lebanon was absent due to mediation and interventions of the sectarian communities, but other non confessionalism sect their people and families, became living on the ounce left by sectarian quotas.

In fact, what makes Lebanon uprising different and more fascinating from other the Arab movements is that it is so soft that the beauty of the Lebanese women who suddenly participated has forgotten the sameness of some outbreaks, and sometimes even covered the demands of the revolutionary street in Beirut communities and the rest of the cities, and the political details operating the movement. Making many Arab observers unconcerned with Saad Hariri’s proposals, eager only for the continuation of the Lebanese revolution.

As noted, The demonstrations in the communities and streets were an opening for Lebanese women to demonstrate their strength and ability to influence not only their violent and unbreakable hardness, or their confrontation with the military, but also the dominance of their intellectualism statements, their sedition, their beauty, and their nationalism. Sometimes, with her very realistic comments, she complains to the media how corruption has deprived her of the better social life that this beauty, which God has given for her, asked for fair political, social and better economic conditions.

Though controversial, The woman’s moves into the streets to protest is evidence that the outbreaks in Lebanon have become more than a necessity, and that it is a consistent decision among the Lebanese. Women, in general, are characterized by conservatism and tranquility. When women decide to strike against irresponsible political and social conditions, it means that the crisis is really true, and to that extreme, in Lebanon uprising, women should show to the world that women have the right to express their political and social attitudes towards stimulating protest among the general public.

To sum up, as a cliché says, where there’s a will, there’s a way. the outbreaks who took to the streets of Lebanese cities may be qualified to overthrow the existing legitimate government and circumstances may change to constitutional rules. The upset and rejection of sectarianism, although as noble goal, it needs a radical change in the structure and socio-cultural of Lebanese society, and if the Lebanese are committed to their democratic behavior to overthrow political sectarianism, Then this will be a great victory for the Lebanese people and will pave the way for eradicating political and sectarian confessionalism throughout the Arab world, particularly in Syria and Iraq.

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