When Iran completed a successful test run of its nuclear power station in the city of Bushehr on February 25, it raised the level of concern in some Western countries, particularly in Israel. Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert even went as far as issuing a threat, which many believe was directed at Iran: “We are a strong country, a very strong country, and we have at our disposal [military] capacities, the intensity of which are difficult to imagine,” Olmert told public radio.
Technically, Bushehr is not a real danger to Israel. In fact, it is no danger at all. Bushehr is a nuclear power plant just like any other. None of the nuclear fuel it will use or low-enriched uranium will come from Iran. It will all be supplied by Russia. Furthermore, all the spent fuel, some of which can be used for weapons purposes, will be taken away by Russia. The Russian government and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will count every drop of nuclear fuel entering and leaving Iran. Therefore Iran cannot use any of the equipment at Bushehr for its military nuclear program.
By raising such a hue and cry over Bushehr, the Israeli government is distracting the world’s attention from the real danger: the Iranian uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. That is where the danger lies and that is where the U.S. and Israel need to focus their attention. By crying “foul” every time Iran embarks on any nuclear activity, no matter how harmless (such as the case in Bushehr), both Israel and the U.S. could damage their credibility. They could also wear out the patience of the international community. After America’s inability to find WMDs in Iraq, Israel will have to be very careful how it portrays the Iranian threat. Overdoing it could damage its legitimate claims, and could turn it in to the boy who cried wolf too many times.
If Israel wants to legitimately direct its anger, it should be towards Moscow. It is the Russian government that has been hampering international efforts to impose tough sanctions against the Iranian government and its illegal enrichment activities in Natanz. For years, Moscow used its contract with the Iranians for Bushehr as leverage, in order to pressure Iran to not antagonize the West. Moscow used every excuse, and in some cases outright lies, to drag its feet over the completion of Bushehr. The Russians even went as far as citing lack of funds from Iran as an excuse. In reality, everyone knows that the Iranians had paid. However, Tehran couldn’t do much. It was dependent on Russia for this power plant, and all it could do was sit and watch the scheduled date for the completion of the plant slip by 10 years.