Israel Presses Russia To Abandon Nuclear Ties With Iran

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel is pressing Russia to abandon its nuclear connections with Iran but those ties between Moscow and Tehran are likely to continue, Israeli analysts said on Thursday.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon returns to Israel on Thursday from a three-day trip to Moscow during which he met with Russian leaders and discussed among other things Russia's continuing support for the Iranian nuclear program.

The U.S. and Israel have been urging Russia for several years to stop assisting Iran in its development of a nuclear program but Israeli experts said it is not likely that Moscow will abandon its nuclear ties with Tehran.

Iran's Defense Minister Vice-Admiral Ali Shamkhani had been scheduled to visit Moscow at the same time as Sharon but cancelled his trip.

He charged that one of the goals of the U.S. and Israel was to disrupt Iranian-Russian defense ties. But, he said, Iranian-Russian relations would not be influenced by such international pressures.

Deputy Atomic Agency Minister Yevgeny Reshetnikov said that a team of Russian specialists would visit Iran soon to discuss plans for building more nuclear reactors at Bushehr. Negotiations between Moscow and Tehran on signing a contract will begin in December, he added.

Dr. Vladimir Messamed, Iranian and Central Asian expert at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem described the relations between Moscow and Tehran as "very good" with an especially close cooperation in the military field.

"Russian officials have said that their cooperation [with Iran] in atomic energy is strategic," Messamed said.

Russia has pledged to finish the construction of the nuclear reactor in Bushehr within three years, making it a very real possibility that Iran will possess a nuclear bomb within that time, he said.

"It's a real threat to all the region," he added. Russia is interested in the money and has no intention of backing down on its relations with Iran, he said.

"The Russian-Iranian nuclear relationship is a result of a decision by Russia to help Iran in building up its first nuclear reactor in Bushehr," said Brig-Gen. Shlomo Brom, of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv.

Work on the reactors was started by a German company decades ago, but was halted as a result of the 1979 Iranian revolution. Later, when Tehran decided to resume the construction, Germany refused to continue with the project largely due to U.S. and international pressure against it.

The nuclear reactors at Bushehr cannot be used to make fissile materials necessary for making a nuclear bomb, experts say. Nevertheless, they enable Iran to obtain important technologies necessary for such achieving such a goal.

"The problem is that the Iranians are using this overt project for activities to serve their covert military project," Brom said.

For instance, a project to produce nuclear fuel from enriched uranium would not give yield the military grade of the substance necessary to make a bomb but it would give them the technology to obtain it, he said.

Israeli and U.S. intelligence have clear indications that this is the direction in which Iran is heading. Therefore, Israel has attempted to stop the transfer of technology and materials to Iran, he said.

Israel may not be able to stop the flow completely, but it is "realistic" to believe it can be slowed down, Brom said.