Exclusive: A prominent Saudi leader says his country might have to develop a nuclear bomb if Israel’s nuclear arsenal is not dismantled and if Iran is not dissuaded from obtaining nukes, an indication that oil-rich Saudi Arabia sees the WMD threat as coming from Israel as well as Iran, reports Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
Prince Turki bin Faisal, a prominent member of the Saudi royal family, has cited Israel’s existing nuclear arsenal as well as Iran’s alleged pursuit of an A-bomb as justification for his country’s possible development of its own weapons of mass destruction.
Prince Turki, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief and ex-ambassador to the United States, warned that the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council – consisting of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf oil states – might need WMDs because they could find themselves trapped between two nuclear powers.
“If our efforts and the efforts of the world community fail to bring about the dismantling of the Israeli arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and preventing Iran from acquiring the same, then why shouldn’t we at least study seriously all available options, including acquiring WMDs, so that our future generations will not blame us for neglecting any courses of action that will keep looming dangers away from us,” he told a GCC conference in Riyadh on Dec. 5.
Prince Turki’s comments represent a deviation from the approach by the West and the United Nations to concentrate their attention singlemindedly on Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions while virtually ignoring the fact that Israel possesses a sophisticated nuclear arsenal.
That double standard was underscored when the new leadership of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency consulted secretly with officials of Israel’s nuclear weapons program regarding Iran’s alleged progress toward building a nuclear bomb.
As Geoffrey Pyatt, the American chargé in Vienna, Austria, reported in a July 9, 2009, cable, the new IAEA director Yukiya Amano, a Japanese diplomat, not only thanked the United States for masterminding his election but agreed to private meetings with Israeli officials.
Pyatt learned that Amano had consulted with Israeli Ambassador Israel Michaeli “immediately after his appointment” and that Michaeli “was fully confident of the priority Amano accords verification issues,” i.e. keeping the pressure on Iran, which insists that its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes only.
Michaeli added that he discounted some of Amano’s public remarks about there being “no evidence of Iran pursuing a nuclear weapons capability” as just words that Amano felt he had to say “to persuade those who did not support him about his ‘impartiality.’”
Amano also agreed to private “consultations” with the head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, Pyatt reported. Pyatt’s cable was obtained by WikiLeaks and was first reported by the Guardian in the UK. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Slanting the Case on Iran’s Nukes.”]
Then, last month, Amano reportedly relied on allegations obtained, in part, from Israel for a surprisingly harsh denunciation of Iran regarding its alleged nuclear-bomb progress. Widely trumpeted in the Western press, the IAEA report has spurred new tensions between Iran and Israel’s allies in Europe and the United States.
Yet, even as the U.S. and Europe ratchet up economic sanctions against Iran – while leaving open the option of a military strike – the West continues to ignore the existence of Israel’s nuclear arsenal and has placed no demands on Israel to even acknowledge it, let alone dismantle it.
Though Prince Turki’s remarks received only minor notice in the U.S. press – the New York Times ran a brief Associated Press story at the bottom of page A9 on Wednesday – the AP story contained an unusual recognition that “most defense analysts believe that Israel has nuclear weapons, but it has refused to confirm or deny their existence.”
The prospect of a WMD program by the Gulf Cooperation Council countries received more attention in some of the energy trade press. For instance, Oilprice.com writer John C.K. Daly reported that Prince Turki’s “idea of supporting Gulf countries acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) if Israel and Iran do not constrain their nuclear programs represents the edge of a precipitously slippery slope.”
Daly added, “Turki’s comments should not be dismissed lightly. … Given his long term position at the very epicenter of Saudi power and his previous positions on Iran [favoring negotiations between Washington and Tehran], bin Turki’s change of attitude is significant.
“Reading the Riyadh tea leaves, bin Turki has established an explicit link between Iran’s purported nuclear armaments program and Israel’s de facto one. Given that this connection has been advanced by one of Washington’s closet Middle East allies and the world’s leading exporter of oil, expect the Obama administration to pay close attention, even as it sends out for gallons of Maalox.”
The possibility that Israel’s actual nuclear program as well as Iran’s speculative one is spurring a nuclear arms race in the Middle East also should be unsettling to U.S. policymakers for another reason: the hard-line Sunni Muslims who rule Saudi Arabia have had ambiguous associations with senior al-Qaeda leaders, who recruited mostly Saudis for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
While Prince Turki was head of Saudi intelligence, he personally met five times with al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, who was himself a Saudi. Prince Turki’s known contacts with bin Laden dealt mostly with their collaboration in the 1980s regarding the CIA-backed war against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Their last meeting reportedly was in early 1990.
Even though Prince Turki and other Saudi leaders broke with bin Laden when he began urging terror attacks on American targets, the precise relationship between some Saudi officials and al-Qaeda remained unclear — and the prospect of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states possessing nuclear bombs would represent another possible avenue for terrorists to gain control of a devastating weapon.
[For more on related topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.]
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.