Bushehr: Producing Energy and Political Capital
by MEIR JAVEDANFAR in Tel Aviv
20 Aug 2010 18:49
The Bushehr nuclear power plant is for the production of energy. Every drop of nuclear fuel that it needs will come from Russia. Every delivery of nuclear fuel will be verified and certified by the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog. And every drop of waste that will come from the nuclear fuel cycle will be accounted for by the IAEA and hauled out of the country by the Russians. With constant on-site observation by Russian technicians, coupled with IAEA checks, it will be extremely difficult for the Iranians to take the waste from the nuclear fuel to make a bomb.
With this risk mitigated, the only other perceived danger is that the Iranians may decide to build a secret nuclear facility underneath Bushehr after it becomes operational. There is some logic behind such an idea, as attacking Bushehr could lead to a massive ecological disaster. Knowing that such a strike would be too risky for any attacker, Iranian authorities may try to use Bushehr as a shield for their alleged weaponization program. Although this may appear to be a sound theory, in reality it would be very difficult to conceal the construction of such a secret facility.
First, numerous spy satellites are now trained on Bushehr. Second, there is the very reason that after ten years of foot-dragging, the Russians suddenly decided to complete the plant -- to make sure that Iran never actually equips itself with nuclear weapons. In other words, with so many Russian technicians on site at Bushehr, they likely could and would expose the Iranians if any illegal activities took place there.
The motivation to do this has to do with Russia's ultimate goal vis-à-vis the current nuclear standoff between Iran and the West. Moscow does not want either side to win. A nuclear-armed Iran would be against Russia's interest because it could create competition on its southern border, and to some extent across the Middle East. At the same time, if America manages to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power altogether, that could boost the U.S. position in the region, something that Moscow does not want either.
Therefore, to achieve its goal -- maintaining the status quo -- Russia employs a method by which it shifts support from one side to the other the moment it feels either is growing too strong. We saw this recently when Iran managed to build a secret site at Fordo. To keep its advantage in check, Moscow supported new U.N. sanctions the West had been asking for. This gave the United States the upper hand. Viewing this as against its interest, Moscow got back into the fray, this time by providing support to the Iranian side by completing the Bushehr plant after years of delays and excuses (if not outright lies). Now that the Iranian side has scored a victory, Russia is trying to address the balance by insisting that it will not supply the S-300 anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems it has promised to Iran.
Much like Russia, Bolton is using Bushehr for his own political gain. After the staggering victory of the Democrats in the 2008 election, the Republicans are desperate to recoup their losses and emerge victorious in this November's midterm elections. By egging on Israel to attack Bushehr, Bolton is trying to look like a "concerned" friend of Israel so that his party wins votes from the U.S. Jewish community.
The Israeli people and their government do not need such friends. The Iranian nuclear conundrum is challenging enough without Republican politicians giving Israel deadlines to attack Iran. Such statements damage Israel's position greatly as they make the country look like a warmonger. After the flotilla fiasco, this is one image that Israel needs to shed, not reinforce. Bolton is also making Israel look weak: If Israel doesn't attack, then it's made to look like a toothless tiger that did not have the spine to confront what Bolton sees as a mortal danger.
Despite statements by some Israeli politicians and Israel's supporters in America, an attack against the Islamic Republic's nuclear program by Israel is not yet a foregone conclusion. In the short span of 62 years, Israel has managed to become a substantial power, partly because of its sophisticated cost-benefit analysis. Israel will consider the option of attacking. However, if it turns out that the costs of attacking Iran outweigh the rewards, then the option of living with a nuclear Iran will most likely be accepted by its leadership. Judging by Obama's recent assurances that Iran is at least one year away from building a bomb, we have that long before Israel's leaders will have to make a decision. Until then, no deadlines for attack from foreign politicians sitting in posh Manhattan high-rises, please.
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