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.
For another thing, it is an open secret that Saudi Arabia is willing to cooperate with Israel on a bombing raid of Iran’s nuclear facilities. The Sunni Arabs, from Kuwait to Riyadh, have no love for the Shia Iranians, a distaste heartily reciprocated by the Persians. An Iran armed with nuclear weapons, able to blackmail and attack the guardians of Mecca, is the great nightmare of the House of Saud. Using the time-honored principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Saudi Arabia will shut off its radars and look the other way as Israeli bombers cross the Kingdom on their way to Iran. There are indications that a remote desert refueling field would be made available to returning Israeli aircraft. Of course, once the raid is over, all assistance by the Saudis would be stoutly denied by Riyadh and Jerusalem.
Since Saudi Arabia, understandably, does not want to appear to be Israel’s ally, it is likely that such an accommodation by the Saudis would be a one-time deal, and the Israelis would have to do the job with their first airstrike. Israel cannot waste its one chance to destroy Iran’s nuclear program on an attack on the Bushehr complex alone.
So, during the next months Israel must carefully calculate exactly when President Obama’s policy of cosmetic sanctions, appeasement, and soft soap has failed to the point where the terror masters of Iran are about to assemble nuclear weapons. Then the Israelis will defend themselves, and do our work for us once again. In that event, it is probable that Israel will be forced to try to destroy Iran’s nuclear bomb program by herself. Without American assistance, a single long-range air strike would be extremely difficult, and even with sub-launched cruise missiles, cyberwar attacks, and commando raids, there is a very real chance that Israel will fail to destroy Iran’s bomb program.
The wild card, in that dark hour, is an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon. A Jericho III missile can detonate an EMP warhead in the ionosphere above Tehran, so high that people on the ground below would not even know it had exploded — except by the fact that the lights would go out, computers and electrical devices would cease to function, and enrichment centrifuges would stop spinning.
EMP has been described in several books and studies, including my own book, Iran Covenant. Let us hope White House appeasers will not force Israel to use it.
Chet Nagle is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the author of Iran Covenant.