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Middle East's Reaction to John Bolton's Commentary

Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant

Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant

This week, Iran will officially have a fully functional nuclear power plant (with the help of Russia) in Bushehr (a city on the southwestern coast of Iran) that will connect to the country’s grid by November at the latest.  There have been mixed international reactions since nuclear engineers began to fuel the power station.

Last week, John Bolton (former US Ambassador to the UN), provided fellow “war drummers” with something to think about.  On Tuesday, Aug 17, 2010, France’s independent AFP ran an attention-grabbing article stating “Israel has ‘8 days’ to hit Iran nuclear site“.  Bolton stressed that Israel has “eight days” to launch a military strike against Iran’s Bushehr nuclear facility and stop Tehran from acquiring a functioning atomic plant.  He goes on to guilt naysayers who want to stay away from any form of military conflict between Israel and Iran by stating, “I’m afraid that they’ve lost this opportunity.”

For those of you who have not followed Bolton’s career… I will put it frankly: he has always been a man who has been for military activity.  It is a matter of fact that if Israel and Iran were to ever get into any type of conflict, it would not be a standard war that you so often hear could happen.  It would be a long drawn out insurgency using Hezbollah in Lebanon and a number of terrorist activities.  Iran does not want to invade Israel and Israel does not want to occupy Iranian territory.  If Israel were to seriously strike Iran, Iran would perhaps simply channel money toward a huge number of global terrorist attacks on Israelis and Israeli allies.  Taking this into consideration, the United States and its officials should not advocate a “General Patton view” on things.

Interestingly, some Middle East media outlets have focused on other issues.  “(Iran doesn’t) have the enrichment capacity, they don’t have the uranium capacity, they don’t have the ability to continually fuel Bushehr,” Paul Brannan, senior research analyst at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), told Al Jazeera.  “Iran says facilities like Natanz and Qom are necessary to supply its nascent nuclear power system, but they produce so little enriched uranium that they would not be able to fuel the Bushehr reactor.  Instead of fretting over Bushehr, the international community should be concerned with Iran’s secretive work on other sites.  More concerning is the project currently under way near the town of Arakin western Iran, where the government appears to be constructing a heavy-water reactor. Unlike Bushehr, a light-water reactor, the power plant at Arak could produce a byproduct more easily reprocessed into weapons-grade plutonium. A facility to produce heavy water has already been constructed in Iran, while the government has given variable dates over the next four years for the Arak reactor to open.  [Arak is] actually the reactor I would worry more about,” he said.

Brannan may be onto something.  On Saturday, Aug 21, 2010, Lebanon’s Daily Star re-published a neutral Reuters article stating that Tehran would stop high-grade enrichment if it was assured of nuclear fuel supplies for a research reactor.

The same day, the Editor in Chief of The Daily Star wrote a strongly worded and timely editorial titled ‘With lives at stake, diplomacy is key‘.  The Editor in Chief, Jamil Mroue, stated, “At this point, however, we find it deeply disturbing how the various pundits, think-tankers and officials are discussing the potential scenarios.  …  The debate reminds us of men in smoking rooms, playing at parlor games – or perhaps of a purely academic model of a conflict, where backlash is calculated according to an algorithm. This region’s inhabitants are pieces on a board, not to be grieved over if lost during the match. The most reprehensible arguments simply resign in the face of the Islamic Republic, as hawks claim they – and no one – can understand this fanatical regime, so why bother trying? To be sure, the clerical regime in Tehran also for the most part regards its populace as pawns in its power machinations. But, as people living in this region, we feel like little more than targets on a wall. In the end, the inescapable conclusion is that individuals are bantering about the potential conflict and its “repercussions” without at all grasping that the lives of half-a-billion people could be plunged into chaos. It seems as though we have entered a year where genuine negotiations could be pursued; considering the level of debate about the alternative, we deeply encourage all sides to make diplomacy a success.”

Lebanon has a lot at stake.  For the Editor in Chief of Lebanon’s most prominent newspaper to write such an editorial, we must be in an infallibly crucial period of time.