TEL AVIV — Associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have hinted he might agree to one of Riyadh’s conditions for normalization: for the United States to enable Saudi Arabia to establish a civil nuclear program on its soil. Still, many of Israel’s security officials and nuclear experts are deeply concerned by the idea.
In extolling the advantages of a peace deal with the Saudis, Netanyahu has made no public mention of the demand, focusing instead on strategic and economic peace dividends. Asked about Israel’s official view of a US-aided Saudi uranium enrichment program, National Security Council Director Tzachi Hanegbi recently gave a vague answer along the lines of "we trust the Americans," a position that could undercut Israel’s strenuous objections to US efforts to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran.
While publicly mum on the Saudi issue, Netanyahu has been exerting heavy pressure on Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, especially its director, retired Brig. Gen. Moshe Edri, to support the plan being formulated between Washington and Riyadh. According to Channel 12 and 13 news reports, Netanyahu has tasked Edri and Mossad director David Barnea with discussing its possible approval with their American counterparts.
Most Israeli nuclear experts stand opposed to the idea. A group of former top security officials and former members of the Israeli atomic commission outlined the dangers of uranium enrichment on Saudi soil in a document recently submitted to the Atomic Energy Commission.