The Obama administration continues to talk about the necessity of stopping Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons but is doing very little. Its efforts at “engagement” with the ayatollahs flopped. So did their feeble attempt to craft an international coalition in favor of “crippling sanctions” on Iran to force them to halt their nuclear program. The president opposes a ban on transactions with Iran’s Central Bank that would halt the flow of crucial oil income into the Islamist republic that pays for their nuclear adventures. He will probably use waivers to avoid enforcing a bill just passed by Congress that would be the boldest sanction yet on Iran. So can we be surprised that America’s allies are wondering what they should do about the situation?
In the case of Israel, their only option is the use of force. But Saudi Arabia, which is just as worried about a nuclear Iran as the Jewish state, is thinking about its own nuke. That’s the hint dropped yesterday by an influential Saudi prince, and it ought to scare the Obama administration. If the thought of an Iranian bomb isn’t enough to shake them out of their complacence, then how about a Middle East nuclear arms race in which the Saudi monarchy adds its resources to the problem?
Prince Turki al-Faisal’s comments about the Saudis needing to think about getting their own weapon if they found themselves confronted by a nuclear Iran and a nuclear Israel illustrates the shift in thinking among Gulf States that has been necessitated by the Obama administration’s failures. Though many in Washington are acting as if an Iranian bomb is something they can contain or at least live with, the Saudis and the other Arab countries in the region understand that it is something that will fundamentally alter the balance of power. Were the ayatollahs allowed to get such a weapon, it would place them in a position to put a stranglehold on the flow of oil from the Gulf as well as place the future of the Saudi monarchy — and those of the other principalities and emirates there — in jeopardy.
Though al-Faisal mentioned being between Israel’s bomb and an Iranian one, there should be no misunderstanding about the different nature of the two programs. The purpose of Israel’s nuclear arms is to provide a deterrent against the Muslim world’s 63-year-old war against the Jewish state’s existence. The Saudis know the Israeli nukes are no threat to them or any other Arab state so long as they don’t join in any attack on Israel. But Iran’s weapons would not only allow it to make good on its threats to annihilate the Jewish state. They would serve to provide a nuclear umbrella for their terrorist allies Hamas and Hezbollah as well as any Shia groups that might operate in the Arabian Peninsula. It would be a dagger pointed at the heart of Saudi Arabia and also enhance the ability of Iran to choke off the flow of oil despite the presence of the U.S. Navy in the Gulf.
Under such circumstances, the Saudis would have no choice but to do whatever they could to arm themselves. Though fears are real that a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities might set off a regional war, the Saudis have made no secret about the fact that they would prefer that scenario to one in which the Iranians achieved hegemony in the Gulf.
The Saudi statement ought to provide the administration with yet another wake-up call on the peril from Iran. While the president may hope covert operations such as sabotage or assassinations of Iranian scientists — which may or may not be the work of American and Israeli intelligence — will stop Iran, that might be a trifle optimistic. The Israelis and the Saudis know it will take more than that to avert this danger. As Prince al-Faisal reminded us yesterday, if you think the Israelis are paranoid about Iran, just listen to the Saudis.