That’s the question Micah Zenko poses at Foreign Policy. It’s partly a rhetorical question meant to highlight a perceived double standard in how Israel’s nuclear program is treated differently from Iran’s–a double standard that isn’t really one at all, since Israel is a democratic country and not a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in any case. But it’s also a practical question, because of the low probability that normal air strikes would be enough to destroy Iran’s dispersed, secretive, and largely buried nuclear facilities.
The short answer is: probably not. Only a small percentage of the Israeli public would favor such a move, and it would instantly transform Israel into the ultimate pariah state. Israel’s current strategy, as far as it is known at the moment, is a second-strike strategy. It is thought to be arming submarines with nuclear warheads that will automatically launch if any attack is detected against Israeli territory, guaranteeing massive retaliation against the source of that attack even if there are no Israelis left to retaliate.
But a longer answer is: possibly, provided that Israel has developed some kind of new nuclear weapons technology that does not actually kill civilians but is targeted to achieve a tactical purpose. For example, it might have developed a bomb that detonates once it reaches a certain depth underground, in order to take out underground facilities such as Fordow. Israel could even have developed an EMP–an electro-magnetic pulse, triggered by a nuclear explosion, that leaves structures intact but wipes out electronics.
These ideas are not just science fiction. The EMP, for example, is considered a potential threat to the U.S. and is something for which American authorities have been working on a defense in case any of our enemies build one. Under this kind of scenario, Israel would still break the taboo of using a nuclear weapon but would avoid much of the destruction that makes such weapons problematic in the first place–while destroying enough of Iran’s nuclear program to neutralize it. Still unlikely, but an intriguing possibility.