From its origins, the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, has suffered from contradictory assessments of its expected outcomes. Deal supporters assert that it blocks all of Iran’s paths to the bomb, while opponents contend that it paves those paths.
As Iran moves ever closer to the nuclear weapons threshold — using the illegally built nuclear infrastructure decriminalized and guaranteed by the JCPOA itself — the critics appear increasingly prescient.
Among the many competing claims about the JCPOA were those that placed it in the broader context of international arms control. Former European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini often referred to the deal as “an essential component of the global non-proliferation architecture.”
This stood in stark contrast to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s warnings that the JCPOA would spark a regional nuclear arms race. His argument was that Iran’s neighbors would insist on securing for themselves the same weapons-relevant nuclear capabilities that the deal gave Tehran. In Netanyahu’s controversial 2015 speech before Congress, he predicted, “This deal won’t be a farewell to arms. It would be a farewell to arms control.”
The recent publication of Saudi Arabia’s demands for assistance with uranium enrichment and other elements of the nuclear fuel cycle is the latest evidence that the Middle East nuclear arms race the Israeli prime minister predicted eight years ago has begun. If the United States fails to act now, future regional conflicts in a nuclear Middle East will threaten the safety and security of the entire world.
Riyadh’s insistence on enrichment follows previous revelations of Saudi activity since the conclusion of the JCPOA that appears aimed toward matching Iran’s growing ability to produce and deliver nuclear weapons. In August 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported that, with the help of China, the Saudis have built a facility to process uranium ore. In December of the following year, the Journal revealed that the kingdom, again with Chinese assistance, is producing its own ballistic missiles.