The belief that Iran could develop nuclear weapons under the auspices of a nuclear deal with the West has raised fears in the Arab world, leading many countries to build up their military arsenals.
According to data released Sunday by IHS, a leading analyst of the global arms trade, Saudi Arabia has passed India to become the world’s biggest arms importer. Last year Saudi spending on new weapons skyrocketed by 54 percent to an estimated $6.5 billion.
The Al-Arab newspaper analyzed this development:
Saudi Arabia is building its arsenal amid concern about a geopolitical shift in the Middle East as the United States looks for help in fighting the Islamic State group, said David Cortright, director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.
Negotiators are nearing a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and lift sanctions against the country, which would create new opportunities for economic development and threaten Saudi Arabia’s longstanding ties with the United States.
Fox News reported that Riyadh may also look to go nuclear if Tehran does:
Saudi Arabia, growing increasingly nervous about its neighbor across the Persian Gulf, may be hedging its bets and crafting a nuclear back-up plan if a diplomatic deal with Iran fails to halt the Islamic Republic’s alleged march toward a weapon.
The latest sign is a curious visit on Wednesday by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the day before Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to the capital Riyadh.
Sharif arrived in Saudi Arabia following a visit by the Egyptian president on Sunday and Turkey’s president on Monday — but the Pakistan PM’s House of Saud call might be the most significant of the three, considering Pakistan is seen by some analysts as Saudi Arabia’s future nuclear tech supplier, should the Kingdom take that leap.
Fox also quoted Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who said, “The visit by the PM … almost certainly has to be seen in the context of Saudi Arabia looking to Pakistan for nuclear cooperation to counter Iran’s emerging status.”
Iran actively supports the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, where they toppled the country’s Saudi-allied government last month.
In an article on the front page of the pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat, Saudi commentator Bader Al-Rashed wrote (Arabic link) that many in the Gulf states think that Iran is more dangerous to the Arab world today than Israel, which may necessitate normalizing relations with the Jewish state.
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