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EXPECTED EFFECTS OF AN IRANIAN NUCLEAR ATTACK ON ISRAEL
4 June 2011

By Louis René Beres
Professor, Department of Political Science
Purdue University
West Lafayette IN 47907

A just-released report by the IAEA, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency, pretty much makes it official: Iran’s entry into the Nuclear Club is now incontestably probable, and also sooner than expected. This once-preventable development will be the direct result of persistently false hopes in both Washington and Jerusalem. For Israel, especially, the remaining prevention options will now be severely limited. As to the plausible consequences of any significant strategic failure, these outcomes would be grave, or even unimaginable.

Will a newly-elected nuclear leadership in Tehran be fully rational? What will happen to Israel if Iranian leaders, endowed with nuclear weapons, should prove to value certain presumed religious obligations more highly than their state’s national survival? This is not a silly or disingenuous question. Many of Iran’s current leaders, including President Ahmadinejad, subscribe faithfully to the explosive narrative of a Shi’ite apocalypse.

Whether rational or irrational, any Iranian leadership that slouches toward inevitable conflict with the “Zionist Entity,” could, in less than three years, unleash nuclear war. Deliberately or inadvertently, as a “bolt from the blue,” or as a fully unintended result of escalation, whether out of an inexorable religious commitment to Jihad against “unbelievers,” or for much more mundane reasons of miscalculation, accident, coup d’état, or command-control failure, a nuclear Tehran could ignite a real-world Armageddon.

Thirty-one years ago, I published the first of ten books that contained authoritative descriptions of the physical and medical consequences of nuclear war, any nuclear war. These descriptions were drawn largely from a still-valid 1975 report by the National Academy of Sciences, and included the following very tangible outcomes: large temperature changes; contamination of food and water; disease epidemics in crops, domesticated animals, and humans due to ionizing radiation; shortening of growing seasons; irreversible injuries to aquatic species; widespread and long-term cancers due to inhalation of plutonium particles; radiation-induced abnormalities in persons in utero at the time of detonations; a vast growth in the number of skin cancers, and increasing genetic disease.

Overwhelming health problems would afflict the survivors of any Iranian nuclear attack upon Israel. These difficulties would extend beyond prompt burn injuries. Retinal burns would even occur in the eyes of persons very far from the actual explosions.

Tens of thousands of Israelis would be crushed by collapsing buildings, and torn to shreds by flying glass. Others would fall victim to raging firestorms. Fallout injuries would include whole-body radiation injury, produced by penetrating, hard gamma radiations; superficial radiation burns produced by soft radiations; and injuries produced by deposits of radioactive substances within the body.

After an Iranian nuclear attack, even a “small” one, those few medical facilities that might still exist in Israel would be taxed beyond capacity. Water supplies would become unusable. Housing and shelter could be unavailable for hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of survivors. Transportation would break down to rudimentary levels. Food shortages would be critical and long-term.

Israel’s normally complex network of exchange systems would be shattered. Virtually everyone would be deprived of the most basic means of livelihood. Emergency police and fire services would be decimated. All systems dependent upon electrical power could stop functioning. Severe trauma would occasion widespread disorientation and psychiatric disorders for which there would be no therapeutic services.

Normal human society would cease. The pestilence of unrestrained murder and banditry could soon augment plague and epidemics. Many of the survivors would expect an increase in serious degenerative diseases. They would also expect premature death; impaired vision, and sterility. An increased incidence of leukemia and cancers of the lung, stomach, breast, ovary and uterine cervix would be unavoidable.

Extensive fallout would upset many delicately balanced relationships in nature. Israelis who survive the nuclear attack would still have to deal with enlarged insect populations. Like the locusts of biblical times, mushrooming insect hordes would spread from the radiation-damaged areas in which they arose.

Insects are generally more resistant to radiation than humans. This fact, coupled with the prevalence of unburied corpses, uncontrolled waste and untreated sewage, would generate tens of trillions of flies and mosquitoes. Breeding in the dead bodies, these insects would make it impossible to control typhus, malaria, dengue fever and encephalitis. Throughout Israel, tens or even hundreds of thousands of rotting human corpses would pose the largest health threat.

Reciprocally, all of these same effects, possibly even more expansive and destructive, would be unleashed upon Iran by Israel. An immediate massive Israeli retaliation for any Iranian nuclear aggression would be certain. In Iran, the once eagerly-expected joys of “martyrdom” would fade in a literal flash.

In its newest report, the IAEA “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear-related activities, involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.” Now, when effective preemption or “anticipatory self-defense” by Israel is no longer practicable, and when any sustained nuclear deterrence with Iran would be both unstable and unpredictable, even if there were a sudden end to Israel’s “nuclear ambiguity,” Jerusalem may need to place most of its ultimate survival bets on ballistic missile defense (the “Arrow”).

Should these bets fail, no lilacs could breed out of the dead land. Before anything fully human could ever again be born in such a necropolis, a gravedigger would have to wield the forceps.

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