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Israel's Nuclear Option Against Iran

The longer that US nuclear negotiations with Iran remain stalled, the more Iranian centrifuges will continue to spin, adding to the pressure on Israel to take matters into its own hands. Lacking good options, its only viable strategy may be to play the card that it has had up its sleeve for decades.

LOS ANGELES – “George, I am asking you to bomb the plant.” Fourteen years have passed since Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called upon US President George W. Bush to attack Al Kibar, a suspected nuclear reactor for military purposes that Israeli intelligence had discovered in the remote Deir al-Zour region of northeast Syria.

In his memoir, Bush reports that on July 13, 2007, after extensive consultation with his national security staff, he conveyed his answer to Olmert. “I told him I decided on a diplomatic option backed by the threat of force.” Olmert’s response was direct: “I must be honest and sincere with you. Your strategy is very disturbing to me.” Two months later, Israeli aircraft struck and destroyed the reactor.

What at first blush seems to be a historical footnote takes on new meaning in the shadow of the August 2021 White House meeting between today’s US and Israeli leaders. Iran’s nuclear program was at the top of the agenda as President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took questions from reporters. In their banter, Biden and Bennett occupied positions eerily similar to those of Bush and Olmert. Biden wanted to put “diplomacy first and see where that takes us,” adding that “if diplomacy fails, we’re ready to turn to other options.” Bennett made clear that Israel’s goal “is to permanently keep Iran from ever being able to break out to a nuclear weapon.…We will never outsource our security.”