Saudi Arabia may be prepared to field nuclear bombs it has purchased from Pakistan in response to Iran’s alleged military nuclear program, and may already have deployed missile systems capable of delivering the bombs, the BBC reported on Wednesday.
According to Mark Urban, diplomatic and defense editor for the BBC’s Newsnight, there are suggestions that the Saudis have paid for a number of nuclear weapons that are ready and waiting in Pakistan. If the reports are accurate, the kingdom could have atomic weapons on its missiles even before Iran has that capability.
Urban said it was an assessment shared by the former head of the IDF’s head of intelligence, Amos Yadlin, and cited comments Yadlin made to that effect at a conference in Sweden last month.
“The Saudis will not wait one month,” Yadlin reportedly said. “They already paid for the bomb, they will go to Pakistan and bring what they need to bring.”
Another source, described as “a senior NATO decision maker,” told Urban earlier this year of an intelligence report about Pakistani-made nuclear weapons ready for delivery to the kingdom.
Since 2009 Saudi Arabia has been sending clear warnings to the US that it will not sit back and let Iran go nuclear.
“I do think that the Saudis believe that they have some understanding with Pakistan that, in extremis,” they would be able to get nuclear weapons from Pakistan, Gary Samore, who until May this year was US President Barack Obama’s counter-proliferation adviser, was quoted as saying.
The Saudis already have the means to deliver nuclear weapons after acquiring Chinese-made CSS-2 missiles during the 1980s. The missiles, which have a range of over 2,500 kilometers, can be armed with nuclear warheads. In addition, it has been clear for many years that Saudi Arabia was funding the Pakistani defense establishment, the report said.
“What did we think the Saudis were giving us all that money for?” a senior Pakistan official was quoted as saying. “It wasn’t charity.”
The report did not say whether the warheads would simply be handed over to the Saudis, or if Pakistani military units would be deployed in the kingdom to oversee their use, although it suggested that Pakistani-made Shaheen (Falcon) ballistic missiles were already stationed in Saudia Arabia, minus their warheads.
In an email to the BBC, Yadlin left no doubt as to his take on the gravity of the prospect of a nuclear-armed Saudi Arabia.
“Unlike other potential regional threats, the Saudi one is very credible and imminent,” he wrote.
Officially, both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia denied the reports. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry told the BBC in a statement that the report of nuclear bombs ready and waiting was “speculative, mischievous and baseless.”
“Pakistan is a responsible nuclear weapon state with robust command and control structures and comprehensive export controls,” the statement said.
The Saudi Arabian embassy in London similarly rejected the suggestion and noted that the kingdom was signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The embassy added that Saudi Arabia had rejected an offer to take a seat on the United Nations Security Council due, among other reasons, to the failure to keep the Middle East free of nuclear weapons.