Israel has picked up signs of the beginning of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East as Arab states seek nuclear weapons to counter Iran, the Israeli defence minister has warned.
Moshe Ya’alon said Sunni Arab nations were not reassured by last year’s nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers and were making their own preparations for nuclear weapons.
“We see signs that countries in the Arab world are preparing to acquire nuclear weapons, that they are not willing to sit quietly with Iran on brink of a nuclear or atomic bomb,” Mr Ya’alon said.
The defence minister gave no evidence to back up his claims but Israel closely monitors the military activities of its Arab neighbours.
Israel and the Sunni Gulf countries do not have diplomatic ties but are known to talk through back channels and are united in their opposition to Iran.
Advocates of the nuclear deal, including President Barack Obama, argue that the agreement heads off a Middle East arms race as Iran’s nuclear capabilities are rolled back.
But Mr Ya’alon said Iran was liable to break the agreement as their economic situation improves with the lifting of international sanctions. “If at a certain stage they feel confident, particularly economically, they are liable to make a break for the bomb.”
Even if the agreement for Iran to limit its nuclear enrichment holds, Mr Ya’alon said its 15-year expiry date was “just around the corner”.
He did not specify which Arab nations were making nuclear preparations but Saudi Arabia, the leader of the Sunni states, is considered the most likely candidate.
Its vast oil wealth could help fund a nuclear programme while its ties with Pakistan, a nuclear power, could provide technical expertise.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) also has oil money and is already building a civilian nuclear power programme, though there is no evidence it is moving to develop weapons.
Mr Ya’alon made the claim after meeting the king of Jordan, one of only two Arab states with which Israel has diplomatic ties.
While Israel’s government tried vigorously to derail the nuclear deal, the Israeli military has acknowledged that the agreement has at least bought time before a confrontation with Iran.
Gadi Eisenkot, the head of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), said earlier this year that the deal contained “many risks” but also “opportunities” for Israel.
Israel, which secretly built its own nuclear weapons in the 1960s, is now playing a somewhat constructive role in helping to monitor the implementation of the deal, according to Western diplomats.
Israel has helped provide technical knowledge and intelligence as the world tries to make sure Iran is abiding by the terms of the agreement, they said.
Mr Ya’alon said Israel was following the implementation closely “because over many years the Iranians have been deceitful about their nuclear programme”.
SOURCE: Raf Sanchez