The U.S. will have a hard time stopping Middle Eastern nations from pursuing nuclear capabilities should Iran obtain a nuclear weapon, and it must work to repair relations with allies in the region to downplay concerns, experts told Fox News Digital.
“It’s obvious that if Iran becomes nuclear, they will threaten the very existence of all the Sunni states and neighbors in the Gulf,” Brigadier General (reserve) Amir Avivi, founder of the Israel Defense & Security Forum, said. “Nobody will have the right, not the U.S., not Europe, not anybody will have the moral right to tell anybody in the Middle East not to be able to defend itself.”
As the U.S. continues to thrash out a new Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – also known as the Iran nuclear deal – the greatest concern remains Iran’s ability to obtain nuclear weapons. The plan limited Iran’s nuclear capabilities for a period of 10 years on centrifuges and 15 years on the amount of enriched uranium it can possess.
Critics argue the plan only delays the pathway rather than stops it while providing Iran with upfront, permanent benefits; supporters believe the gap will allow a new generation to take power and make new agreements. It’s a gamble that countries in the region do not appear to support.
“There will be no stability. There will be wars. There will be proliferation,” Avivi added. “This is a huge existential threat.”
Israel, long at odds with its Muslim neighbors, has found itself increasingly in discussion with Gulf States to strengthen ties in the face of a potential threat from Iran.
“This is the most troubling thing about proliferation and the scenario where not only Saudi Arabia, but also Egypt, Jordan and the Emirates and so on move toward nuclear weapons,” he said. “And I think that this is not only a threat to the Middle East, this will create a whole different planet, a new era for the globe and will endanger everybody.”
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Some analysts have argued that if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia would acquire a weapon from Pakistan “the next day.” Robert Einhorn, a fellow at Brookings and a former senior State Department official, told Fox News Digital how Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Farhan Al-Saud once laid out the relationship between the two countries as one not needing any kind of written commitment.
But he doubts that Pakistan would respond as Saudi Arabia thinks it will. Pakistan rejected Saudi Arabia’s call to join an anti-Houthi coalition and help in the Yemen conflict in 2015, which Einhorn sees as an indication of a fraying relationship.
“If there was some understanding, you know, decades and decades ago, at some general level, I’m very dubious that the Saudis can take that to the bank,” Einhorn said, adding that Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon would prove “disturbing” to the region.
Einhorn stressed that the U.S. needs to work toward addressing Saudi Arabia’s concerns and ensuring that Riyadh doesn’t feel the need to acquire a nuclear weapon, but that will prove difficult as regional allies remain concerned that the U.S. is “disengaging” from the region.
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“It was a concern of the Obama administration, it was accelerated with the Trump administration … and now with Biden, with the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and the perception that the United States is walking away, I think, has contributed to a real concern, including on the part of the Saudis and the Emiratis, about U.S. reliability,” he argued.
Currently, he ranks Saudi Arabia and Iran as the top two countries likely to pursue nuclear weapons, followed by South Korea and Japan, and then NATO ally Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2019 stunned the world when he said he found it “unacceptable” for other nations to ban his country from obtaining nuclear weapons, with many arguing the statement related more to Turkey’s overall standing in the region and world than any clear nuclear ambition.
Ipek Yezdani, a diplomatic journalist focused on Turkish foreign policy, said Turkey has “never had this kind of ambition,” but relations with the U.S. will prove vital to how Turkey responds to any regional proliferation.
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“If Saudi Arabia decides to develop its own nuclear weapon following Iran, I think Turkey would not feel comfortable with that in terms of regional security matters and stability matters,” she explained. “It depends on Turkey’s relations with NATO at the time.”
“If Turkey feels trapped in a region full of countries that will develop its own nuclear weapons, maybe Turkey will also have this kind of agenda,” Yezdani said.
The secondary fear from the deal remains Iran’s alleged funding of terrorist activities in the region, which critics argue would only increase once Tehran has access to some $130.5 billion in frozen assets and new profits from renewed oil production and trade.
But the U.S. has a role to play and needs to do the work necessary to stabilize the region while it can, according to Einhorn.
“The United States should remain militarily engaged in the region,” Einhorn said. “We should try to strengthen the Abraham Accords and to develop a coalition of like-minded countries that are prepared to resist Iranian advances. We should provide a lot of material assistance to these countries.”
“I think that we can contribute to stability in the region,” he added.