How Israel has failed in its bid to thwart a US nuclear power plant deal with Saudi Arabia

The Netanyahu government is pushing for securities to prevent the programme developing further, Anshel Pfeffer writes

July 12, 2018 15:32

The sale of US nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia will go ahead despite Israeli efforts to block the deal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has abandoned efforts to stop the sale and is instead hoping to impose its own “red lines” on the joint US-Saudi nuclear programme, Israel’s Channel Ten reported this week.

Mr Netanyahu had lobbied President Donald Trump to block the sale, but has been told the Saudis would simply buy reactors from France or Russia instead.

Senior Israeli diplomats have acknowledged that, despite the very close relations Israel currently enjoys with Mr Trump, it is almost impossible to move him on US ties with the Saudi kingdom.

While Israel has little to worry from the pro-western Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s leadership in Riyadh, the region’s volatility could lead in future to a different tone in the Saudi kingdom.

That is why, despite failing to prevent the sale of reactors, Israel is demanding that the US retain all manufacture of nuclear fuel in its own plants.

It also wants the Saudi programme to remain transparent and accountable to observers, to ensure it is not carrying out any uranium enrichment that could at some point produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

The demands were raised last month during a meeting in Washington between Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and his US counterpart Rick Perry.

In the past, Israel has sought to mobilise congressional support to pressure US administrations into pulling out of arms deals with Arab countries that it believes would jeopardise its security.

Its lobbying has not always been successful, such as in the 1980s when it failed to block Ronald Reagan’s sale of the AWACS early-warning system despite a vocal campaign.

Despite the Saudi setback, the long-lasting US promise to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East continues: various advanced weapons systems, such as the F-35 stealth fighter, have not yet been sold to the US’s Arab allies.

In recent years, particularly since President Trump’s inauguration, Israeli objections to arms deals with Arab states have been much more muted. This is due partly to the closer relations behind the scenes between Israel and America’s Sunni Arab allies, based on a joint enmity of Iran.

While the Saudis and other Gulf nations have bought some of the latest versions of the F-15 and F-16 fighter jets used also by Israel, the qualitative edge remains thanks to superior Israeli indigenous avionics installed in the IAF’s planes and higher levels of training.

July 12, 2018 15:32

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