Determined not to fall behind in the Middle East nuclear race, Saudi Arabia has arranged to have available for its use two Pakistani nuclear bombs or guided missile warheads. They are most probably held in Pakistan's nuclear air base at Kamra in the northern district of Attock. Pakistan has already sent the desert kingdom its latest version of the Ghauri-II missile after extending its range to 2,300 kilometers. Those missiles are tucked away in silos built in the underground city of Al-Sulaiyil, south of the capital Riyadh.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources reveal that at least two giant Saudi transport planes sporting civilian colors and no insignia are parked permanently at Pakistan's Kamra base with air crews on standby. They will fly the nuclear weapons home upon receipt of a double coded signal from King Abdullah and the Director of General Intelligence Prince Muqrin bin Abdel Aziz. A single signal would not be enough.
Our military sources have found only sketchy information about the procedures for transferring the weapons from Pakistani storage to the air transports. It is not clear whether Riyadh must inform Pakistan's army chiefs that it is ready to take possession of its nuclear property, or whether a series of preset codes will provide access to the air base's nuclear stores. The only detail known to our Gulf sources is that the Saudi bombs are in separate heavily-guarded stores apart from the rest of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.
This secret was partially blown by Riyadh itself. In the last two weeks, Saudi officials close to their intelligence establishment have been going around security forums in the West and dropping word that the kingdom no longer needs build its own nuclear weapons because it has acquired a source of readymade arms that will be available on demand. This broad hint was clearly put about under guidelines from the highest levels of the monarchy.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources confirm this is the case. Partial nuclear disclosure was approved by Riyadh as part of a campaign to impress on the outside world that Saudi Arabia was in control of its affairs: The succession struggle (reported in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 470: Saudi Arabia's Ailing Rulers: A Sense of Coming Change) had been brought under control; the Saudi regime had set its feet on a clearly defined political and military path; and the hawks of the royal house had gained the hand and were now setting the pace.
(A separate item in this issue reveals the new Saudi posture's profound impact on Syria and Lebanon.)
The hawkish Sudairis gain the upper hand in setting policy
Our Saudi experts point out that a victory for the hawks on the issues dividing the royal house is tantamount to a victory for the Sudairi branch of the monarchy.
It is headed by Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdel Aziz, who led the campaign against Al Qaeda and fundamentalist terror in the kingdom and is the frontrunner as third in line to the throne after fellow-Sudairi Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdel Aziz. Its other leading members are Prince Khaled bin Sultan, who stands in for his ailing father, the Crown Prince, as defense minister; Prince Salman Bin Abdel Aziz, Governor of Riyadh Province and full brother of Sultan and Nayef, and Bandar Bin Sultan, former ambassador to the US and head of the Saudi National Security Council.
The only non-Sudairi in this group of activists at the top of the Saudi hierarchy is the powerful intelligence chief, Prince Muqrin.
This group successfully fought down the Saudi royal house's doves, headed by King Abdullah, who is presently recovering from two back operations in a New York hospital. In shunning confrontation in relations among Middle East governments and a preference for diplomacy and mediation, the king is backed by his two sons, Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Abdullah, who acts for the king in delicate and secret diplomatic missions, and Prince Mutaib Bin Abdullah, to whom the king last month transferred the command of the National Guard. Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal and his brother Turki Al Faisal, former intelligence chief and ambassador in London and Washington, share the king's view on the advantages of diplomacy.
The Saudis parade their nuclear independence of Washington
The kingdom's access to Pakistani nuclear weapons has radically reconfigured its relations with Washington and boosted its prestige in the region:
1. The rift between Riyadh and the Obama administration has grown wider, focusing now on a dispute over the nuclear question.
2. The day before the Six Powers went back to nuclear negotiations with Tehran in Geneva on Dec. 6, Saudi spokesmen indicated the kingdom had run out of patience with the interminable diplomatic process's chances of bearing fruit and sent out broad hints that Riyadh had developed an independent nuclear option as concrete as Iran's.
3. The newly victorious princely hawks of Riyadh look askance at President Barack Obama's revived diplomatic engagement with Iran. Most of all, they view Washington's consent to stage the next round of multilateral talks with Iran in Istanbul, thereby bringing Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan aboard, as caving in to Tehran and Ankara alike. The Saudis are furious over Turkey's elevation to the world power forum facing Iran, while Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf emirates are left out in the cold and unrepresented in a process that affects them more vitally than most of the participants.
4. Riyadh is signaling to Tehran that the moment it goes into weapon production, Riyadh will beat it to the draw with the finished bomb at its disposal.
Monday, Dec. 6, debkafile's military and intelligence sources revealed Iran had managed to process 19.75 percent enriched uranium in a quantity that it would take no more than a couple of weeks to top up and convert to the 90 percent purity for building a bomb, meaning that the production of a weapon may be no more than six to eight weeks away.