Israel Quietly 'Concerned' About Russian-Iranian Nuclear Deal

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel is "concerned," but keeping a low profile about a Russian pledge to step up construction on an $800 million nuclear reactor in Iran and a consideration to build a second one, an Israeli official said on Friday.

Moscow and Tehran signed an accord on Wednesday dealing with the construction of the reactors and a separate understanding in which Moscow agreed to supply nuclear fuel for the southern Iranian plant for 10 years.

The nuclear reactor in Bushehr was started decades ago but shelved as a result of the 1979 Islamic revolution. Russia agreed earlier to help Iran finish the reactor, but now the process will be accelerated.

"We are concerned," said an Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official declined to give any further details but said that Israel was dealing with the problem in "certain" ways.

Other unnamed Israeli officials were quoted in the Jerusalem Post on Friday as saying that the subject of Russian assistance and leakage of technology and material to Iran is a priority in diplomatic talks between the two countries.

Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu brought up the subject as recently as Monday in talks that he held in Moscow.

Washington has been highly critical of the deal. President Bush earlier this year lumped Iran into what he called the "axis of evil" for its drive to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. and Israel are both vehemently opposed to Russia helping Iran with its nuclear program and have tried unsuccessfully for several years to get Moscow to abandon the assistance plan.

Russia insists that its ties with Iran are within the boundaries of international regulations and resolutions passed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran and Russia say that the reactor will be used for civilian purposes, but Western experts argue that Iran - rich in oil and gas - has no need for nuclear power and that the reactor could give Iran a springboard from which it could obtain nuclear weapons.

Some experts have said that it is Iran and not Iraq that poses the real threat to the region when it comes to weapons of mass destruction.

Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani stated clearly in a speech last year that the Islamic world is seeking to obtain an atomic bomb in order to obliterate Israel. Iran openly declares its hatred of Israel and desire to wipe the Jewish State off the map.

Prof. Benny Morris, expert in Middle East History from Ben Gurion University of the Negev said that money is motivating Moscow to make nuclear deals with Tehran.

"I think [Moscow is] trying to walk a tight rope," Morris said. Russia needs the money from Iran but at the same time they are trying to be careful not to give nuclear capabilities into the hands of the "mad mullahs," he said.

Nevertheless, the assumption is that if Russia trains the Iranians to use a nuclear reactor and gives them the basic knowledge, it will be much easier for them to obtain nuclear weapons, Morris added.

The plant had been expected to open at the end of 2003 but it is not clear according to the to new agreement when the opening of the new reactor is planned.