Today former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told FOX News that Israel has until the weekend to launch a military strike on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant - or else the humanitarian risk of an attack becomes too great.
Not sure what to make of this troubling, and alarming, assessment. I interviewed Ambassador Bolton last winter, and he struck me as a straight shooter, no pun intended. But given the high stakes of geopolitics, statements - especially those delivered by good diplomats - are never offered up without careful consideration, and much goes on to prompt them that is unknown to the public.
Bolton, of course, is not part of Obama’s administration, but served under President Bush. So his statement is a personal one and does not in any way–in any official way–represent the Obama White House.
If working as a journalist on middle east and international issues has taught me anything, it’s that people often project conspiracy theories–or at least elaborate theories of behind-the-scenes planning–where they don’t exist.
That said, I’ve got to wonder.
Bolton’s assessment hinges on the planned delivery, starting this upcoming Saturday, by a Russian company, of nuclear fuel into Iran’s nuclear reactor at Bushehr. Bolton warns that, after delivery of this fuel, an attack on the Bushehr plant could trigger radiation that Israel wants to avoid. “So” the piece paraphrases, “unless the Israelis act immediately to shut down the facility, it will be too late.”
“Once it’s close to the reactor … the risk is when the reactor is attacked, there will be a release of radiation into the air,” Bolton told FoxNews.com. “It’s most unlikely they would act militarily after fuel rods are loaded.”
Iran claims the Bushehr plant is for peaceful nuclear energy (it clams this about all its nuclear plants, even those the IAEA has finally concluded are for bomb-making).
Whatever is immediately being built at Bushehr, the delivery of this nuclear material paves the way for a second front in Iran’s efforts to attain a nuclear weapon, according to Bolton.
“What this does is give Iran a second route to nuclear weapons in addition to enriched uranium,” Bolton said. “It’s a very, very huge victory for Iran.”
Bolton mentions that, if the Israelis were planning a strike in the next week, they would not be talking about it.
I would further speculate that if he had any information the Israelis were planning the strike in the next week, neither would Mr. Bolton.
It’s impossible to know what is going on here. Bolton may be delivering his assessment, straight and direct. But I wonder if perhaps something a little different is going on. Mr. Bolton could be a back channel, a messenger of sorts, to the Iranian regime - and to Moscow. Heaven knows, he’s the last person anyone would overtly accuse of carrying a message from President Obama.
Whether his words were prompted by anything other than his own desire to speak up, they do send a message: the United States is well aware of Russia’s double-dealing in supplying Iran with nuclear fuel even as Moscow takes baby steps towards imposing sanctions on Tehran.
Ilan Berman, former consultant to the CIA and Defense Department and an expert on regional security in the mideast, Central Asia, and Russia, has written that the actual “red line” Israeli officials have made clear to the Russians would precipitate the use of military force against Tehran’s facilities would be Russia’s delivery of the S-300 air defense system.
According to Berman “Given the sophistication of the S-300, its deployment by the Islamic Republic would dramatically increase the difficulty of targeting and successfully neutralizing Iranian nuclear facilities.”
I see nothing in the FOX article or online about Russia planning to deliver this air defense system. In actuality, according to Berman, Russia has held off on delivering this air defense system to Iran, despite having struck a deal with Tehran in 2007 to do so.
Moscow’s double-dealing, according to Berman, has much to do with Russia’s currently undemocratic nature: a good portion of the governing powers in Russia are corrupt, money-hungry, and therefore–because of the nature of Russia’s internal political structure–less accountable to the Russian people, less concerned with long-term security and stability, and more concerned with short-term economic profits and strategic influence.
Indeed, Russia’s dealings with Tehran have benefited Russia’s “vast energy sector” and its “arms sector.” In particular, according to Berman, “concern about Iran’s nuclear program has led to a surge in investment in arms and defense in the middle east.”
And guess who is supplying both Iran, and the countries that are scared of Iran, with weapons? You guessed it. Russia. (Note to American leftists inclined to accuse the U.S. of war profiteering: at least when American corporations profit from war, they pick a side.)
So perhaps–just speculation–Bolton’s striking statement is a kind of warning to Russia about the real red line.
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