The theory goes that an Israel strike against Iran's nuclear facilities would obviate the Saudi need to develop an independent nuclear capability and so avert a Middle East nuclear race.
That may have been true up to just over a year ago – not now, because Israel held back too long and, in the meantime, the Saudis are too far into their nuclear program to stop now.
A senior Western intelligence source familiar with the Middle East nuclear situation told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that Israel missed the boat more than once.
One mistake Jerusalem made was to assume that the destruction of the still-unfinished Syrian-Iranian-North Korean plutonium reactor at Deir ez-Zor in September 2007 would not only nip Damascus' project in the bud but slow Iran's progress on the plutonium track, by eliminating its source of supplies in Syria.
It turned out that the North Korean Munitions Industry Department in Pyongyang, which manages the "Office 99" personnel employed in building reactors overseas, simply transferred the hundreds of suddenly jobless North Korean workers from Syria to Iran, where their work drastically shortened the time scale for building the heavy water plant in Arak.
This accounted for the rapid progress Iran has made on the plutonium track.
For Israel, a nuclear-armed Iran is an immediate threat – unlike Saudi Arabia
The Syrian operation may have been Israel's last bid to destroy a hostile nuclear target in the Middle East and remain sole regional nuclear power.
Since 2007, the window of opportunity has narrowed to a slit because, as another Western nuclear expert explains, even if Israel knocks the Iranian nuclear program out now, it will be left with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Saudi Arabia.
Attacking the Saudi facilities at Khamis Mushait, one of six military towns propping up the royal government, is a total non-starter. The program run by Riyadh, which controls one-fifth of the world's oil reserves, enjoys US protection and, besides, an Israeli attack would release the fury of an all-out Arab war, wreck the hard-won peace accords with Egypt and Jordan and extinguish all hope of normal ties with the Arab world for years to come.
Even a strike against Iran today is fraught with risk, which is why Israeli leaders are in two minds about its benefits. This operation would likely throw world markets into chaos and send oil prices into a tailspin. Despite their sympathy for anyone clobbering the Islamic Republic, when motorists in New York or Los Angeles are charged 10 dollars for a gallon for gasoline, Israel will not be winning popularity contests in the USA.
All the same, while turning a blind eye to the Saudi nuclear program, Israel's government and military are focusing exclusively on preparations for a military showdown with Iran because of the extreme danger it poses for the Jewish state in the immediate term.
An Israeli military source who wishes to remain anonymous commented that, whereas Saudi Arabia may or may not imperil Israel in the future, "That is a long-term concern and not something about to happen any time soon. First, we must deal with Iran and then we'll see about the Saudi nuclear program."
Regular Saudi-Israeli intelligence rendezvous
This hands-off approach to the Saudis is grounded, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources reveal, in the undercover but close ties between Saudi intelligence and the Israeli Mossad. Their heads, Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz and Meir Dagan, meet secretly several times a year, always in an Arab country outside the kingdom.
In the last three years, at least two of these secret rendezvous – usually for exchanging views on how to handle Iran – were attended also by the Israeli prime minister in office at the time, giving them the opportunity to talk about Israel-Saudi relations face-to-face with Prince Muqrin.
Western intelligence sources do not rule out the possibility of these discussions yielding tacit permission for Israeli bombers to overfly Saudi air space on their way to strike Iran – "unnoticed" by Riyadh. Some even suggest that Israel may build provisional landing strips for refueling those warplanes in remote corners of the Saudi desert.
What concerns Israel most at this time is the security of the nuclear materials lodged in their secret facility in Khamis Mushait. Just as Al Qaeda and the Taliban are dangerously close to elements of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, whether from within or from Afghanistan, Islamic extremists may decide to make a grab for the kingdom's nuclear resources from secret cells inside Saudi Arabia or from the Al Qaeda in Arabia strongholds across the southern border in Yemen.
Or Saudi Arabia, like Pakistan, might fall prey to a member of its own military or an extremist hiding deep inside some part of the establishment with access to nuclear facilities who never came up on Saudi security screens.
For the first time in two decades, al Qaeda jihadis have come close to nuclear materials at a location within a short distance from Israel.