The specter of a devastating Middle East confrontation looms bigger than ever this week after former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton noted that Israel had only a few days left to attack Iran's main nuclear facility.
Bolton, who also previously oversaw US nuclear non-proliferation policy, was referring to Russia's intention to deliver nuclear fuel rods to the now-complete Bushehr nuclear reactor this coming weekend. The rods will be inserted into the core and the reactor is scheduled to be operational on August 21.
"Once that uranium, once those fuel rods are very close to the reactor, certainly once they're in the reactor, attacking it means a release of radiation, no question about it," Bolton told Fox Business Network on Monday. "So if Israel is going to do anything against Bushehr it has to move in the next eight days."
Bolton said he did not know if Israel intends to strike or not, but was certain that Israel would not attack the Bushehr reactor after it had gone online for fear of releasing radiation on the nearby population.
Bushehr has been in development since 1995 as part of an agreement with Russia, and is not exactly part of the suspected Iranian nuclear weapons program.
However, spent nuclear fuel rods do contain the material needed to build nuclear bombs. If Iran's other uranium enrichment facilities are eventually shut down, Bushehr could still provide the needed components to make nuclear weapons.
Russia says it has an agreement with Iran under which Tehran is obligated to return the spent rods from Bushehr, but many in the region fear that rods will mysteriously go missing or simply not be returned as Iran continues its defiant quest for nuclear weapons.
As such, Bushehr going online is, as Bolton warned, a major threshold, and in fact constitutes the dreaded "point of no return" that many have warned about over the long years of trying to diplomatically convince Iran to halt its nuclear program.