Israeli security and intelligence officials have recently reached out to their US counterparts to express concerns over Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program, the Walla news site reported Wednesday.
Quoting an unnamed Israeli official, the report said the Prime Minister’s Office was treating the matter with high levels of sensitivity due to concerns about harming Israel’s unofficial ties with Saudi Arabia.
Israel views Saudi Arabia as a strategic partner, particularly in combating mutual foe Iran and its proxies, and Jerusalem hopes the kingdom will follow the lead of the United Arab Emirates and agree on a normalization deal, or at least encourage other Gulf nations to do so.
According to the report, these factors have led to the Prime Minister’s Office instructing officials not to publicly comment on the matter.
“There are worrying signs but it’s still not that clear to us what exactly is happening at this facility,” an Israeli official told the news site, referring to the recent reports that Saudi Arabia is developing a nuclear facility with China’s help.
“It’s pretty unclear to the Americans and the International Atomic Energy Agency what is going on there, and IAEA officials intend to check into this with the Saudis,” the Israeli official added.
Both the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times last week cited US intelligence officials as saying they were worried about Riyadh possibly heading toward nuclear weapons capability after the kingdom, aided by China, constructed a facility to extract uranium yellowcake from uranium ore, which can be enriched into fuel for a nuclear weapon.
The Saudis began working on various nuclear energy projects more than a decade ago; one of them aims to construct 16 nuclear reactors by 2040, another trains technicians for uranium mining and extractions.
Saudi Arabia has acknowledged having extracted small amounts of uranium from ores, with the assistance of China and Jordan, which has led international researchers and intelligence officers to look for possible facilities suitable for processing uranium ores and the production of uranium ore concentrate, yellowcake.
The Walla report said that Saudi Arabia had chosen China for the project because Beijing would not require assurances that the nuclear capabilities would be for peaceful purposes only. However, the Saudis are thought to ultimately prefer to work together with Washington on the matter of nuclear power, especially given Beijing’s alignment with Tehran.
Saudi Arabia has never hidden its intention to become a nuclear power if Iran sets the precedent.
Israel, which is believed to have a nuclear arsenal, has always actively opposed efforts by other states in the region to acquire non-conventional weaponry.
Covert ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia have reportedly been warming in recent years. The shift in policy has reportedly been led by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, who sees Israel as a strategic partner in the fight against Iranian influence in the region.
However, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that Riyadh will not normalize relations with Israel before an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord is reached.
The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday that a nuclear power plant has been connected to the country’s power grid.
The $20 billion Barakah nuclear power plant was built by the Emirates with the help of South Korea. It’s the first nuclear power plant on the Arabian Peninsula.
The US has praised the UAE’s nuclear program for agreeing never to acquire enrichment or reprocessing capabilities, which prevents it from being able to make weapons-grade uranium. The US says that’s a model agreement for other countries seeking nuclear power while also encouraging the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.
Last year, a nuclear expert told the British Telegraph that the nuclear program of the UAE could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and its lack of crucial safety features could lead to a nuclear disaster.
Dr. Paul Dorfman of the Nuclear Consulting Group said the UAE may be hoping to use the program to develop a nuclear weapons arsenal. He also warned that Abu Dhabi’s nuclear plants could be a prime target for terrorists.
Agencies contributed to this report.