Is this a sign of the world gone mad, or a sign of a sane response to a mad world? Israeli thinkers are contemplating the unimaginable—helping Saudi Arabia get the bomb if Iran goes nuclear. Amir Oren, a senior correspondent for the paper, writes in an op-ed in Ha’aretz:
If Iran violates the deal taking shape with the world powers and insists on obtaining nuclear weapons, Israel’s response must be the opposite of its traditional line. Israel shouldn’t keep threatening to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities; this would produce short-term gains. Instead, it should warn that it will obstruct an Iranian nuclear monopoly in the Persian Gulf by helping Saudi Arabia obtain a nuclear capability.
This runs contrary to the traditional approach, in which Israel fears a chain reaction of a nuclear Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia once Iran gets the bomb. It’s a nightmare for strategic planners in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv (and Washington).
A different tack would aim to convince the Iranians that it’s better to forgo the bomb. Incentives so far have centered around economic sanctions (and the lifting of them). The Israeli and American threat of military action remains in place, but its operational and political credibility is a problem.
Ha’aretz is essentially the Israeli New York Times—the voice of the respectable, center-left elite. To find this kind of thinking—America has screwed up so badly we might want to slip the Saudis a nuke—in its pages is a sign of how drastically things have changed in the Middle East.
It’s almost superfluous to point out that until recently, the Saudis have been dedicated wholeheartedly to Israel’s destruction, and foremost amongst her enemies. Even given their recent rapprochement, Saudi Arabia is not exactly philo-Semitic. Until yesterday, almost, anyone in Israel would have regarded this suggestion as insane; apparently, not any longer.
We’ve noted before that the most likely path to a Saudi nuke would be through fellow Sunni, and nuclear, Pakistan, whom the Saudis have subsidized generously. But a story like this should illustrate just what a Pandora’s box will be opened in the Middle East if the other regional powers do not believe Iran is being credibly restrained.
Nothing will be certain in such a scenario, or liable to linear prediction. Managing such a mess would be challenging even to the most gifted statesmen. As we move toward an endgame, our friends and partners are trying to let us know just how high they believe the stakes to be. Are we listening?