Expert explains the Israel, Iran and nuclear weapons dilemma

March 5, 2012

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Beverly Clark
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beverly.clark@emory.edu

Tensions continue to rise between Israel and Iran as Iran works to build a nuclear program. Recent sanctions by the United States have not deterred the country, and it's nearly inevitable at this point that Iran will soon have a nuke, says Emory University nuclear proliferation expert Kyle Beardsley. But, he says, don't expect Iran to use it. 

"I think that fear of the rather catastrophic scenarios is misplaced," Beardsley explains. "There is very little chance that Iran would ever use [its] nuclear weapons directly against Israel or against targets of the U.S. simply because Iran would suffer greatly from such a behavior and benefit very little."

America's role

Israel has announced it may launch pre-emptive missile strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities this spring or summer, but Beardsley, an Emory political science assistant professor, doubts this will lead to an all-out war between the two countries, mainly because they're separated. While American officials have worked for months to persuade Israel these attacks would only be a temporary setback, Beardsley says the U.S. might have to take a small role in helping its ally. 

"The Americans will likely have to provide tankers, that is airplanes that will allow the Israeli jets to refuel," he says. "The Americans have likely also considered the use of its own bombers and its own fighters."

Beardsley, also an expert in mediation, is the author of  "The Mediation Dilemma" (Cornell University Press), which examines the technique of mediating conflicts between and within states. The book focuses on the strong record of mediation in reducing hostilities in the short term, while also discussing its long-term limitations.