Saudi Arabia is believed to be building its clandestine nuclear program with the help of nuclear scientists from Pakistan. Earlier this week an Arabic news website published claims that Saudi Arabia has secretly constructed nuclear laboratories beneath several newly-built prisons. According to the magazine Israel Today, the website also "cited intelligence reports that indicated the Saudis are constructing a massive underground nuclear center and missile base south of the capital of Riyadh."
It has long been speculated that Saudi Arabia is developing a nuclear weapons program. In fact, evidence suggests that Saudi Arabia's quest for the bomb began as early as 1975. It has stayed under the radar primarily because of a scarcity of hard evidence, but also in large part because the United States' willingness to turn a blind eye to the problem. Saudi Arabia is an important strategic ally that the US cannot afford to alienate.
Perhaps some of the most compelling evidence for Saudi Arabia's nuclear activities was provided by a man named Muhammad Khilevi, a former UN official who defected from Saudi Arabia in 1994. After defecting he turned over more than 10,000 documents to the IAEA that were obtained from the Saudi Arabian Embassy. The documents show that between 1985 and 1990, the Saudi government paid up to 5 billion dollars to Saddam Hussein to build a nuclear weapon.
In the late 1980's Saudi Arabia purchased a stockpile of ballistic missiles with a 3,500 km range, capable of carrying nuclear, chemical and biological warheads. The Chinese CSS-2 missiles were deployed at the El-Solayil and Al-Jofar military bases. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, "missiles of such range are difficult to justify unless they carry nuclear weapons. They are too elaborate and expensive to make sense for anything else." While these missiles are now largely considered obsolete, they are still considered convincing evidence of Saudi Arabia's nuclear ambitions.
Experts believe that Saudi Arabia has also helped to fund Pakistan's nuclear program. The Saudis are believed to have exchanged both cash payments and free oil for nuclear technology. In fact, Saudi Arabia has provided Pakistan with an estimated 1.2 billion dollars worth of oil a year for the past ten years, virtually free of cost. In May 1999, the Saudi Defense Minister visited Pakistan's highly restricted uranium enrichment and missile assembly factory where he was reportedly briefed by A.Q. Khan - the father of Pakistan's nuclear program. High-level defense officials from the two countries have met repeatedly in recent years, fueling speculation about Saudi Arabia's nuclear activities.
In October of 2003, the Washington Times cited a senior intelligence officer in the Israeli defense forces, alleging that the Saudis had gone to Islamabad with the intention of buying Pakistani warheads to be placed on Saudi land-based missiles. Intelligence sources also indicate that between October 2004 and January 2005, under cover of the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), several Pakistani scientists slipped into Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi scientists and defense officials.
In June of 2005 Saudi Arabia signed on to the IAEA Small Quantities Protocol. The agreement prevents the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency from monitoring Saudi Arabia's nuclear program. It is perhaps best described as a loophole in outdated IAEA regulations: countries with small quantities of uranium can sign an agreement exempting them from investigation.
Born of more trusting days, the protocol frees countries from reporting the possession of up to 10 tons of natural uranium - or up to 20 tons of depleted uranium, depending on the degree of enrichment - and 2.2 pounds of plutonium. However experts say 10 tons of natural uranium can be processed into the material for up to two nuclear warheads. The agreement also allows them to keep silent about work on nuclear facilities secret until six months before they are ready for operation.
Saudi Arabia is technically our ally, but US-Saudi relations have been under constant strain since the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Many Saudis would like to see their country end its cooperation with the US. A Saudi survey taken shortly after the September 11 attacks reported that 95 percent of educated Saudi men between the ages of 25 and 41 backed bin Laden's cause. Furthermore, of the 19 hijackers, 15 were Saudi citizens. Many al-Qaeda fighters are from Saudi Arabia, as is Osama bin Laden himself.
Before September 11, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan were the only countries that recognized and aided Afghanistan's Taliban regime. In fact, Saudi Arabia still helps to fund some 15,000 religious schools in Pakistan. Students memorize the Koran and are indoctrinated with anti-American, anti-Israeli and anti-Indian propaganda. They are also encouraged to engage in jihad to defeat a "global conspiracy to destroy Islam". These schools supplied thousands of recruits for the Taliban militia in Afghanistan and are still being used to recruit militants to fight the US-led forces in the Middle East.
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