Will Israel attack Iran’s nuclear reactor?

Russia will begin loading fuel rods into Iran’s new nuclear reactor on Friday. Ultimately, the Bushehr complex will produce Plutonium (Pu239) much faster than centrifuges can deliver Uranium (U235), and Pu239 is better material for atomic weapons. But unlike attacks on similar reactors in Iraq (1981) and Syria (2007), the Israelis will not attempt to destroy Bushehr in the next two days or, indeed, two months. Why not?

There are sound reasons for Israel to allow the fueling of the complex’s first reactor, the Bushehr 1. The main reason is that the Obama administration agreed not to oppose starting Bushehr 1 in exchange for Russia’s support of UN sanctions on Iran. Though those sanctions are largely useless, and though Russia, China, and others will continue to cheat on sanctions, Israel will not overtly oppose U.S. policy unless there is a clear and present danger to Israel. To embellish his policy of no military action against the Islamic Republic of Iran, President Obama signaled he wants to talk to Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — a futile wish he has made at least twice before. Echoing that sentiment, the State Department pooh-poohed the latest UN report on Iran’s uranium enrichment violations by saying, “We are hopeful that Iran will express a willingness to come to the table. We stand ready to have that dialogue.”

It would be foolhardy for Jerusalem to attack Bushehr while such madness is afoot in Washington’s corridors of power.

The second key reason is that there is no great hurry. The Bushehr 1 reactor will not be functional until September, if then. Of the three other reactors planned at the complex, only the lightwater reactor, which is far from completion, would produce Pu239. On top of that, it will take Iran some time to acquire the equipment and technology to extract and fashion the Pu239 into missile warheads and other deliverable weapons. In the interim, Israel will not want to kill Russian technicians at Bushehr unless it is unavoidable.

Certain unknowns and secret arrangements will make it even harder for Israel to act immediately. For one thing, the November congressional elections are coming. The arrival of new legislators and the possibility of a Republican takeover of one or both houses of Congress may have a spine-stiffening effect on American foreign policy.