Iranian Nuke Crisis Creates Giant Headache for NASA

As if the Obama administration didn't have enough foreign policy problems, a new one has cropped up in the past few days and it could affect its NASA headaches, as it has to make decisions about the future of the American government's human spaceflight program, on the basis of the report of the Augustine panel, due to arrive this month.

The problem, of course, is much larger than human spaceflight, but this will only exacerbate the latter issue.

A few days ago, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu paid a visit to Vladimir Putin in Moscow, apparently with an interesting diplomatic gift: "Netanyahu has handed the Kremlin a list of Russian scientists believed by the Israelis to be helping Iran to develop a nuclear warhead. He is said to have delivered the list during a mysterious visit to Moscow."

If true, think through the implications of this.

First, it means that Russia apparently has no problems with Iran developing a nuclear weapon and, in fact, is supportive of it. That means, in turn, that any hopes that the Obama administration had of getting their support for a sanctions regime with bite to prevent that are a chimera, despite the "smart diplomacy" and the "reset button."

But it hints at much more profound things.

Israel, unlike almost any other nation in history (with the exception of our own) -- and despite its unjustly sullied international reputation of being the equivalent of the Nazis, who brutally imprisoned many of its current residents (though fewer with every year as they die off) and slaughtered their relatives, over six decades ago -- always takes great pains to not only minimize civilian casualties in its ongoing war with those who seek to wipe Israel from the map of the Middle East, but often risks and even sacrifices the lives of its own soldiers to do so.

For example, Israel, as the U.S. has done in its own history (for example in World War II Japan bombings), warns civilians of upcoming attacks against military targets, in the hope that they will leave.

Now, it's unlikely that Prime Minister Netanyahu considers Russian nuclear engineers innocent civilians, but it's not hard to imagine that if he's going to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, he would prefer to avoid the additional diplomatic complication of killing them in the process and thus wanted to give the Russian regime fair warning. So it's not unreasonable to suppose that the time is growing close to the moment that Israel considers critical, in an existential sense: the development of an Iranian bomb. This would, actually, be buttressed by the fact that they're getting Russian help, if true, because most intelligence estimates of their time to do so are based on their native (i.e., crude) abilities. If the Russians have been helping, intelligence estimates of the time until having not only a weapon, but perhaps one that could be shrunk to put on a missile, could be reduced from years to perhaps months, rendering a need for a halt by the nation in Iran's cross hairs all the more urgent.

If true, this would potentially not just blow up the current administration strategy of engaging the Russians in helping to rein in the apocalyptic regime of the mullahs, but present it with a real dilemma in how to deal with the Russians in general.

Hence the problem with NASA and its human spaceflight program.