In Jerusalem Post interviews (December 25), two prominent Russians reiterated the frequently heard statement that "Moscow is not convinced that Iran plans to weaponize its nuclear program, and has not been shown evidence convincing it otherwise." Former Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov went further to note that "[Iran] may be more like Japan, which has nuclear readiness but does not have a bomb..." While the first statement may be technically correct, in the narrowest sense, the second one does sound, especially to Israeli ears, like a lame excuse for Russia not to take strong action against the ongoing nuclear weapons development project in Iran.
The development of target deliverable nuclear weapons consists of three major parts that can be developed independently of each other: production of the fissile materials (high-enriched uranium (HEU) or plutonium) for the nuclear core of the weapon; the weaponization part, in which the fissile material is placed inside an explosive mechanism; and the delivery system - missiles, in the case of Iran. The Iranian activities on the first and third parts are there for all to see. Iran's uranium enrichment program is forging ahead, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency's periodic reports, and the offensive missile capability is impressive in its achievements.
In addition, there is mounting evidence that Iran has been working on the weaponization part of the nuclear weapons development project. Work on the neutron initiators of the explosive process was evident in the recent disclosure of the work on the uranium deutride initiator. The IAEA reported information concerning uranium metal hemispheres that, if consisting of HEU, form the core of the nuclear explosive device and have absolutely no civilian uses.
IT IS the uncovering of the Qom underground small-scale enrichment plant that serves as the long sought-after "smoking gun." Iran tried to explain the existence of this small plant as being for peaceful purposes, which is irrational, given the existing huge enrichment facility at Natanz. There is no explanation for this plant other than the provision of the final stages for the production of HEU - the essential material for nuclear weapons.
That the Iranians have not yet reached this stage does not detract from the unavoidable conclusion that their ultimate aim is to have everything ready for the moment when and if an order is received to produce, in short order, deliverable nuclear weapons. That this order may not yet have been given may be true. The alarming potential, most assuredly, will be there. This does not seem to worry Russia.
The comparison between Japan and Iran is no less worrying. Although Japan has, no doubt, the fissile materials production capability, there is no evidence of work on the weaponization and the delivery systems parts. Moreover, Japan is under strict IAEA inspections and abides by the Additional Protocol, while Iran does not. On the other hand, Iran is on record in its vituperative statements of wanting to destroy Israel. Iran is a supporter of terrorism and terrorist groups and is a menace even without its nuclear program.
Japan can be considered to be a member of the international community in good standing, while Iran was found by the IAEA to be in breach of its non-proliferation obligations, disregards all IAEA and UN Security Council resolutions, which Russia supported, and is under UN sanctions. The comparison between the two so different countries is therefore unpalatable.
No doubt, Russia has its own reasons for not wanting to antagonize Iran on the one hand and to mildly confront the West on the other. These probably consist of the internal situation with the strong Muslim community in Russia, the energy and investment market, the international power play with the US and others. In addition, Russia appears not to be very worried by the prospect of a nuclear Iran, as it supposes that it will not be threatened by these weapons. These may be some of the reasons why Russia repeats time and again the above statements, as part of its game, and is hardly bothered by the facts.
The writer is a senior research associate at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies.