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Nuclear competition

Editorial |

Having been engaged since 2015 in a war without end in Yemen, Saudi Arabia’s seemingly reformist Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has now ratcheted up the pressure on Iran, indeed going back in time to compare the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to Adolf Hitler.

The comparison between the two figures has not been suitably amplified and is therefore superficial. “Khamenei wants to create his own project in the Middle East very much like Hitler, who wanted to expand at the time,” Prince Salman said.

“Many countries around the world and in Europe did not realise how dangerous Hitler was until what happened. I don’t want to see the same events happening in the Middle East.” He has emitted the chilling signal that the theocratic desert kingdom will acquire a nuclear bomb “as soon as possible” if Iran developed nuclear weapons.

The likes of Donald Trump will greet Thursday’s bluster with a cautious welcome, not least because the statement could excerbate the volatile rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran and thus render the waters murkier.

Should Riyadh and Tehran go ahead with their respective agendas, the outlook both in the long and short term is much too fearsome to even imagine. It could fuel sectarianism and war across the Middle East ~ a swathe of the world that has historically been on a powder-keg.

Further comment must await the course of geostrategy; but for now, Iran has swiftly denounced the prince, indeed the heir apparent, as a delusional and devious novice who “has no idea of politics.”

At the core of the potential confrontation and the projected nuclear proliferation is the intra-religion factor, that has been one major reason for the surge of the ISIS, a Sunni outfit.

Saudi Arabia, under a Sunni monarchy, blames Iran for funding militias to undermine Arab states, while Shiite Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of backing Sunni extremist groups. It is essentially a struggle for regional dominance.

The Crown Prince is scheduled to visit the United States on Monday, and his comments on Iran suggest that he will seek further cooperation with Washington in combating Iranian influence in the Middle East, a goal he shares with the Trump administration.

His threat to Iran is, therefore, well timed. Saudi Arabia has not been known to seek nuclear weapons, but its cabinet this week approved a policy for a new atomic energy programme.

The new policy stated that “all nuclear activities will be restricted to peaceful purposes, within the framework defined by international legislation, treaties and conventions.”

It remained unclear when work on the new programme would begin. With the time-frame as yet undecided and even before Salman ascends the throne, was it really necessary to go on overkill?