Israel’s Nuclear Option in Iran

If Israel decides to attack Iran's nuclear installations, it will have to face the fact that its conventional forces do not have the capacity to destroy them. This raises the question of whether Israel’s repeated refrain that “all options are on the table” implies that even a nuclear strike is possible.

LOS ANGELES – Revelations in former President George W. Bush’s recently published memoirs show that he declined an Israeli request to destroy Syria’s secret nuclear reactor in the spring of 2007. While the revelation may appear merely to be a historical footnote, more profoundly it raises new uncertainty about whether Israel now thinks that it can rely on the United States to apply military force to stop Iran’s nuclear program should diplomacy fail. The Syrian episode suggests that it cannot, which means that Israel may decide to go it alone once again, this time to eliminate Iran’s nuclear facilities.

If Israel did so, however, it would confront a conundrum. Unlike the attack on Syria’s nuclear plant, Israel’s conventional forces do not have the capacity to destroy Iran’s suspect installations. Portions of Iran’s nuclear program may be too heavily bunkered, dispersed, or concealed. This raises the question of whether Israel’s repeated refrain that “all options are on the table” implies that even a nuclear strike is possible. Israel’s nuclear history provides no clear answer, but the future may force the issue.

Israel has never acknowledged having nuclear weapons, let alone the size and scope of its arsenal. Israeli policymakers refuse to talk about the subject. Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, never discusses the program or appropriates money for it. Military censors quash public discourse about it.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in;
  1. An employee works at a chemical fiber weaving company VCG/Getty Images

    China in the Lead?

    For four decades, China has achieved unprecedented economic growth under a centralized, authoritarian political system, far outpacing growth in the Western liberal democracies. So, is Chinese President Xi Jinping right to double down on authoritarianism, and is the “China model” truly a viable rival to Western-style democratic capitalism?

  2. The assembly line at Ford Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

    Whither the Multilateral Trading System?

    The global economy today is dominated by three major players – China, the EU, and the US – with roughly equal trading volumes and limited incentive to fight for the rules-based global trading system. With cooperation unlikely, the world should prepare itself for the erosion of the World Trade Organization.

  3. Donald Trump Saul Loeb/Getty Images

    The Globalization of Our Discontent

    Globalization, which was supposed to benefit developed and developing countries alike, is now reviled almost everywhere, as the political backlash in Europe and the US has shown. The challenge is to minimize the risk that the backlash will intensify, and that starts by understanding – and avoiding – past mistakes.

  4. A general view of the Corn Market in the City of Manchester Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

    A Better British Story

    Despite all of the doom and gloom over the United Kingdom's impending withdrawal from the European Union, key manufacturing indicators are at their highest levels in four years, and the mood for investment may be improving. While parts of the UK are certainly weakening economically, others may finally be overcoming longstanding challenges.

  5. UK supermarket Waring Abbott/Getty Images

    The UK’s Multilateral Trade Future

    With Brexit looming, the UK has no choice but to redesign its future trading relationships. As a major producer of sophisticated components, its long-term trade strategy should focus on gaining deep and unfettered access to integrated cross-border supply chains – and that means adopting a multilateral approach.

  6. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now