Creating new perspectives since 2009

Israel presents obstacle to normalisation, refuses Saudi demand for nuclear enrichment 

September 22, 2023 at 12:43 pm

Leader of the Opposition Yair Lapid speaks as Israeli people gather in front of parliament to protest against judicial reform plans during a preliminary vote in Jerusalem on February 13, 2023 [Saeed Qaq – Anadolu Agency]

Israel’s opposition leader, Yair Lapid, has expressed strong opposition to allowing Saudi Arabia to enrich uranium, warning it would threaten Israel’s security, in the latest sign of roadblocks to the complex US-brokered normalisation deal between the two states.

Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid Party, said yesterday that while establishing full ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia would be a “welcome thing,” the Jewish state should not accept uranium enrichment in the kingdom as part of the agreement.

“Strong democracies do not sacrifice their security interests for politics. It is dangerous and irresponsible,” Lapid said in a social media video post. “Israel must not agree to any type of uranium enrichment in Saudi Arabia,” Lapid added, suggesting Israel fits the definition of a “strong democracy,” which is strongly rejected by every major human rights group. The likes of Amnesty and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have concluded that Israel is an apartheid state.

Enrichment of uranium – along with Israel’s occupation of Palestine – has emerged as one of the toughest aspects of the deal, which according to reports see Riyadh normalise ties with Tel Aviv in exchange for US security guarantees and a civilian nuclear programme. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman also mentioned in an interview this week that Israel’s refusal to concede on Palestine is also proving to be an obstacle. In the same interview he explained that if Iran gets nuclear weapons, then Saudi will have to as well.

Read: Saudi crown prince ‘upset’ with Netanyahu

Lapid’s remarks warning against granting Saudis nuclear weapons came in response to comments by the crown prince. Israel already possesses nuclear weapons and is currently the only Middle Eastern state to do so, but it never confirms or publicly discusses its arsenal, with an official policy of ambiguity.

The US and Israel have long opposed nuclear cooperation that would allow Saudi Arabia to enrich uranium domestically, fearing it could open the door to nuclear weapons. However, some Israeli officials have argued that if Washington blocks the Saudis on enrichment, the kingdom could simply turn to other nuclear powers like China or France for help developing its nuclear programme.

It’s not clear if nuclear weapons will present the major obstacle to the deal. The far-right government of Benjamin Netanyahu is said to be more willing to concede on the uranium issue, while stubbornly opposing any concessions on the Palestinian issue, the other key pillar of the normalisation deal. Netanyahu shows no signs of budging on long standing demands from the Saudis and others to improve conditions for Palestinians.

While analysts and the media generally present the Palestinian component of the deal as Israel having to make concessions, this is not the case. Israel is an occupying power, its occupation has been declared illegal and as such is required to withdraw from the occupied territories. There is no moral or legal ground for the apartheid state to exact concessions through its illegal practices.