Israel Divided Over Uranium Enrichment by Saudi Arabia; Yair Lapid Raises Red Flag

The Israeli Opposition leader has said he opposes letting Saudi Arabia start enriching uranium even for civilian purposes as it would endanger Tel Aviv's security. The statement by Yair Lapid, who is also a former prime minister of Israel, came after Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer suggested that the Jewish state might agree to a Saudi uranium enrichment programme in return for Riyadh's normalistation of ties Israel.

"Minister Dermer's statement that 'Israel will not oppose a civilian Saudi nuclear program because there are other countries in the Middle East with nuclear programs' is factually incorrect and endangers Israeli security," Lapid said, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Nuclear weapon programs worldwide
Nuclear weapon programs worldwide Wikimedia Commons

National Security

He insisted that Israel can reach an agreement that strengthens its national security, without actually having to sign off on uranium enrichment in the Middle East. He pointed out that the only country in the Middle East that enriches uranium as part of a nuclear program is Iran.

According to Lapid allowing Saudi Arabia to enrich uranium will significantly raise the risk level in the region and such a move will result in a nuclear arms race in the region. A deal that allows uranium enrichment will automatically give the Sadis control over the whole fuel cycle, leading to potential pursuit of nuclear weapons. He pointed out that Iran is already on that path, and a head start for Saudi will prompt Egypt and Turkey to go down the same path and make nuclear weapons of their own.

Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman Reuters

Earlier, minister Ron Dermer told the US media that peace between Saudi Arabia and Israel will be a key aspect of these countries' relationship with the US in the coming decades. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia are strong allies of the US although there is no formal diplomatic relationship between the two. According to Dermer, Saudi Arabia, being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, might seek the help of other countries including China as it goes for uranium enrichment if the US does not green-light it.

Do Saudis Have a Nuclear Programme?

Saudi Arabia Nuclear Power Plant
Saudi Arabia's plant Jonathan Cheng/Twitter

In 2020, an investigation report claimed that Saudi Arabia has constructed a facility for extracting Uranium yellowcake from Uranium core with the help of China. "The facility, which hasn't been publicly disclosed, is in a sparsely populated area in Saudi Arabia's northwest and has raised concern among the U.S. and allied officials that the kingdom's nascent nuclear program is moving ahead and that Riyadh is keeping open the option of developing nuclear weapons," The Wall Street Journal reported.

It was also reported that The China National Nuclear Corp. and the China Nuclear Engineering Group Corp., signed a memorandum of understating with the Saudi Government in 2017 to explore the possibilities of Uranium exploration. As per a report by The Wall Street Journal, Saudi Arabia is now advancing to master nuclear technology with the help of China and this raises several security concerns.