Tehran // Iran may consider Israeli threats of a strike against its new nuclear power plant in Bushehr as bluffs, but Tehran is still seeking to guard the facility, and enrichment sites at Natanz and Qom, with the best possible defence systems. To this end, Iran is demanding that Russia make good on a long-delayed delivery of S300 missile systems purchased five years ago. "Russia ? has given the guarantee to the [Iranian] nation that it respects its obligation [by beginning to fuel up the Bushehr plant], so the Iranian public opinion now seriously expects Russia's next step to be carrying out its obligations regarding the S300s," Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Iranian parliament's foreign policy and national security committee, said on Saturday.
The sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles are capable of striking aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missile warheads at a range of about 150 kilometres and at high altitudes. Domestic and foreign media have reported that the United States and Israel have been putting pressure on Russia to cancel the deal; Russian officials have been making contradictory statements about the delivery of the missiles since June, when the United Nations imposed its latest round of sanctions on Iran.
In reaction to Russia's equivocation, some Iranian officials have hinted that if the missiles are not delivered, Iran will try to make similar ones on its own. "We are working on a long-range missile defence system, which, God willing, will reach production levels soon," Ahmad Vahidi, Iran's defence minister, said last week. "Regulations of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and international laws prohibit countries from striking nuclear stations during the period of construction to operation," Ali Akbar Salehi, the vice president and head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, told state television on Saturday after a ceremony to mark the transfer of nuclear fuel to the reactor's core site. "We don't expect [a strike], but our ill-wishers should take that [international law] into consideration."
Although many hard-line Iranian politicians and lawmakers have repeatedly said the threats of an Israeli air strike against the Bushehr plant are merely a "bluff", they continue to remind Israel and the United States to avoid "making the mistake" of attacking the new nuclear facility. Israel's foreign ministry issued a statement yesterday that said: "It is absolutely unacceptable for a state that violates international agreements to take advantage of the benefits of nuclear energy." Israeli officials have never issued a direct threat, but because the threat of an Israeli strike is so very extensively discussed in the foreign media everybody assumes that they have. Only last week, John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN, said Israel had only eight days to strike the power plant before it was loaded with fuel.
"Some individuals in the country speak of a military strike by [US or Israel], but all this is only psychological war and even the most stupid of politicians [of those countries] know aggression against Iran is nothing other than suicide," the president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Saturday, stressing that the entire world can be turned into "a battleground" if there is any aggression. According to a 1977 amendment to the Geneva Convention, attacks on nuclear-generating stations violate international law.
The news that the nuclear power plant in Bushehr is about to go online does not seem to have as much concern in the international community as the enrichment facilities in Natanz and Qom. Russia says it is prepared to guarantee that waste material at Bushehr will not contribute towards the making of an Iranian atomic bomb. "Of course there is a 100 per-cent guarantee, because this guarantee is not one formulated by Moscow but by objective fact," the Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, told Interfax on Friday.
All the waste fuel will be returned to Russia, according to an agreement between Iran and Russia. The IAEA, the UN's nuclear monitor, will supervise the plant. The United States has taken its own measures to monitor the plant to ensure nuclear material from the plant is not used towards making a bomb. A senior intelligence official told the Associated Press last week that US intelligence analysts will examine data such as radar and satellite images of the site and watch for signs such as vapour leaving the cooling towers. The images will let them know if the plant is "hot" or whether the Iranians are "trying to siphon anything off" the reactor to any of their other facilities.
Despite acceptance of the Bushehr plant in principle, both US and British officials say the start-up of the nuclear power plant with Russian-supplied fuel is proof that Iran does not need to enrich uranium itself if it does not mean to build a bomb. "The problem is Iran's continued refusal to satisfy the IAEA and international community that its work on uranium enrichment and heavy water projects are exclusively peaceful, Britain's foreign office said in a statement Saturday.