Israel Briefing Book
Fact Sheet: Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East
While the immediate focus of international attention has been on stopping Iran from obtaining the ability to build nuclear weapons, an equally worrisome development is that the Iranian drive to obtain a nuclear bomb has stimulated a regional race for nuclear technology to counter the perceived threat from a nuclear Iran.
Like Iran, the twelve other Middle Eastern countries that have either announced plans to explore atomic energy or signed nuclear cooperation agreements (Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, and the Gulf Cooperation Council), say they are only interested in peaceful uses of nuclear technology.
The fear is that some, or all, of these countries may follow the Iranian example and work toward building a nuclear bomb to protect themselves in any future nuclear arms race. These Middle East nations are increasingly apprehensive about the threat of a nuclear Iran and the failure of the international community to take decisive actions to prevent Tehran from achieving its nuclear ambitions. If the West is going to protect its interests in the region and prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, it is vital now that Iran be stopped and steps taken to rein in these new efforts to join the nuclear club.
These are some of the disturbing recent developments:
- Egypt announced in September 2006 it would revive long dormant plans to construct a nuclear power plant.
- Russia (which is close to completing Iran’s first nuclear facility in Bushehr) and Egypt signed a nuclear cooperation accord in March 2008.
- Egypt plans to develop four nuclear power plants over the next decade.
- U.S. and Saudi Arabia agree to establish a nuclear cooperation relationship in May 2008.
- U.S. will help with the development of civilian nuclear energy in Saudi Arabia in an environmentally responsible manner.
- Saudi Arabia will join the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI).
- In August 2009, the Saudi minister of water and electricity announced that the kingdom was working on plans for its first nuclear power plant.
- In February 2011, Saudi Arabia and France signed a bilateral cooperation agreement for the development of nuclear power.
- In January 2012, a senior official noted, “We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and we don’t. It’s as simple as that. If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit.” Likewise, Prince Turki al-Faisal noted that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, “[that] would compel Saudi Arabia…to pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences”.
- In January 2012, King Abdullah signed an agreement with China for cooperation in the development and use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.
- UAE and
U.S. signed an agreement in April 2008
to establish peaceful nuclear energy
cooperation and formalized that memorandum
of understanding in January 2009. The agreement was approved by President Obama in May 2009 and will next be reviewed by the US Congress for approval.
- The agreement with the U.S. follows the public launch of a UAE policy document outlining potential development of a domestic nuclear power plant.
- UAE signed a nuclear framework agreement with France for cooperation in the use of nuclear energy for peaceful, civilian purposes.
- In January 2008, UAE signed a deal with a French company to build two nuclear reactors.
- Qatar announced in April 2008 a plan to build a nuclear plant.
- Qatar sent experts to a meeting of the IAEA in Vienna in May 2008.
- Qatar is actively involved in the GCC decision made in December 2006 to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
- The GCC states (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE and Oman) are currently undertaking a joint feasibility study into a nuclear energy program.
- Some GCC states have shown interest in developing their own national programs.
- In June 2010, Kuwait signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the U.S. Government on nuclear safeguards and other nonproliferation topics.
- In July 2010, Saudi Arabia and France announced they will be signing a nuclear cooperation pact in order to develop atomic energy.
- In September 2010, Kuwait and Russia signed a memorandum for nuclear cooperation for peaceful purposes. Kuwait also declared plans for building four nuclear reactors by 2022.
- Algeria has one of the most advanced nuclear-science programs in the Arab world and is considering the role that nuclear power might play in its domestic energy mix.
- Yemen announced plans in 2007 to purchase a nuclear reactor, despite being one of the poorest countries in the Arab world.
On February 17, 2011, Jordan and Turkey signed a nuclear cooperation agreement. Jordan wants to build a nuclear plant by 2019 and has signed similar nuclear cooperation accords with 11 other nations, including the United States.