On the eve of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, a new report says that Saudi Arabia has purchased nuclear weapons from Pakistan which are ready for delivery to the Persian Gulf kingdom and that it possesses missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads.
The report by the BBC provided details of the Middle East nuclear arms race, pitting the Shiite Iran against its Sunni-ruled rival Saudi Arabia which is allegedly aspiring to become a nuclear power.
Quoting multiple unnamed sources, the BBC’s Newsnight reported Wednesday night that the Saudis invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects leading them to believe they can secure that kind of weapon when they so choose.
The report further posited that “the Saudis might be able to deploy such devices more quickly” than Iran.
BBC Newsnight’s Diplomatic and Defense Editor Mark Urban wrote, “Earlier this year, a senior Nato decision maker told me that he had seen intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery.”
Experts have long voiced concerns that the Saudi leadership would aim to match Iran’s achievement were it to successfully obtain a nuclear weapons’ capability.
Urban quoted Israel’s former chief of military intelligence Amos Yadlin, who told a conference in Sweden last month that if Iran developed a nuclear weapon, “the Saudis will not wait one month. They already paid for the bomb, they will go to Pakistan and bring what they need to bring.”
The BBC’s report provided details on Saudi Arabia’s acquisition of CSS-2 ballistic missiles from China, purchased clandestinely in the late 1980s.
It also quoted a story by the military publisher Jane’s this summer which reported that the Saudis had completed construction of a new CSS-2 missile base with its launch rails aimed at Israel and Iran.
U.S. officials in the past have raised concern over Pakistani-Saudi nuclear cooperation. A State Department cable posted by Wikileaks said, “it is logical for the Saudis to step in as the physical ‘protector’” of the Arab world by seeking nuclear weapons.
An unnamed senior Pakistani told the BBC that the Saudi deal with Pakistan was likely unwritten, and asked, “what did we think the Saudis were giving us all that money for? It wasn’t charity.”
A former Pakistani intelligence officer speaking on condition of anonymity told Urban that he believed “the Pakistanis certainly maintain a certain number of warheads on the basis that if the Saudis were to ask for them at any given time they would immediately be transferred.”
Simon Henderson, Director of the Global Gulf and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the BBC, “the Saudis speak about Iran and nuclear matters very seriously. They don’t bluff on this issue.”
Yadlin, the former Israeli military intelligence chief, in an email to the BBC said that “unlike other potential regional threats, the Saudi one is very credible and imminent.”
Saudi Arabia is concerned that the apparent warming of relations between Washington and Tehran will allow Iran more maneuverability in developing its nuclear program.
The New York Times on Wednesday quoted a senior Obama administration official who said that the U.S. would be prepared to offer Iran “limited relief from economic sanctions if Tehran agreed to halt its nuclear program temporarily and reversed part of it.”
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia denied the BBC’s report.