Saudi Arabia May Go Nuclear After Recent Attack


On the 19th of December, Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a ballistic missile toward residential areas of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  The missile was intercepted and there were no casualties. This is not the first time that Houthi rebels have fired on Saudi Arabia this year.  However, this attack seems to have escalated the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Despite Iran’s claims, the international community believes they are supplying the Houthi rebels with weapons, including ballistic missiles.  In response, Saudi Arabian officials are due to have talks with United States firms to build nuclear reactors in the country.

The attack came days after Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, presented evidence that Iran has been providing weapons to Houthi rebels.  She stood in front of remnants of a previous missile attack and pointed to markings that are consistent with Iranian defense firms.  Iran denied the allegations, but it has become difficult for anyone to believe them.  The pro-government forces and Houthi rebels have been fighting in Yemen for three years.  Saudi Arabia has supported the pro-government forces and the Houthi rebels have responded by repeatedly firing missiles on Saudi Arabia.  Civilians of Yemen have suffered the most in this conflict.  The casualty rate continues to rise and cholera is spreading quickly.

The conflict in Yemen is an example of a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have chosen sides in smaller conflicts to spread their own influence throughout the Middle East.  Iranians believe that Saudi Arabia is using anti-Iranian rhetoric to distract from their own internal corruption.  Meanwhile, Saudi Arabian officials have stated that Iran forced them to react when they began to infiltrate other countries.  Many have compared this conflict to the Cold War.  Neither country is accepting responsibility.  Regardless of who started the conflict, Saudi Arabia believes nuclear preparation is necessary.

Saudi Arabian officials are scheduled to have talks with the United States over the next few weeks.  The topic of discussion is Saudi Arabia’s ability to enrich their uranium supply.  They would allow U.S. firms to bid on the construction of new nuclear plants.  Prince Turki al-Faisal made the argument that Iran has been allowed to enrich uranium for the purposes of a civilian nuclear program.  Saudi Arabia wants the same, but they have not addressed whether this new program could be used for weapons.  The principle concern is that nuclear development will escalate this Cold War into a nuclear war.

Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria have all been home to proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  The conflict in Yemen has taken this rivalry to new heights.  Iran’s supply of weapons to the Houthi rebels has pushed Saudi Arabia to the point of nuclear development.  It remains to be seen how the international community will respond.  The proxy wars have already caused humanitarian crises and it is unlikely that nuclear proliferation will improve the situation.

Robert Wilber

Robert has a bachelor's degree in history and political science from the University of Michigan.