SIS’s International Politics program and the AU Center for Israel Studies co-sponsored the forum discussion “Israel, Iran and the Bomb” on Nov. 12.
The panel was moderated by Dean James Goldgeier. Participating experts included Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council; Natan Sachs, foreign policy fellow at The Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy; Michael Singh, managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and SIS Professor Sharon Weiner.
Most experts agree that Iran is in the beginning phases of nuclear capability. “U.S. intelligence officials are confident that Iran has no nuclear weapons program,” said Parsi. “The regime has failed people – it could be more advanced and free than it currently is. Political repression has held them back.”
In response to Goldgeier’s inquiry about how worried everyone should be about Iran, Weiner explained that nuclear energy and weapons programs are very similar in the first stages. “It all comes down to intent,” she said.
While countries can only speculate as to the state of Iran’s nuclear capabilities, Sachs said, “there’s no doubt that a nuclear Iran would be terrible for the world and for Israel.”
Parsi said that a nuclear Iran would, ironically, weaken the country’s advantage. “If Iran builds a weapon, there is a risk of regional proliferation. Then Iran would lose its strategic advantage and strategic parity would occur.”
Still, Singh said, Iran is a long way from having a functional nuclear weapon, which reduces the chance that President Barack Obama will decide to strike the country.
“Iran must weaponize the fuel and have a missile – a way to deliver it,” Singh said. “Iran’s challenge is – how do they get from where they are now to a weapon without provoking a strike? We don’t want to take a position unless we absolutely have to. The U.S. and Israel want to avoid strikes if possible.”