Latest update: January 10th, 2013
“La commedia ė finita!” (“The comedy is finished!”) – Pagliacci After so many unpardonable years of deception and self-delusion concerning Iranian nuclear intentions, the IAEA has confirmed the worst.
Iran’s nuclear efforts have been vastly more ambitious and successful than was previously believed. According to David Albright, a former IAEA official who reviewed the agency’s findings, underlying IAEA intelligence also concludes that Iran can now “design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device” using highly enriched uranium as its fissile core.
When selective preemptions against certain Iranian nuclear assets and infrastructures might still have been practicable, neither Israel nor the United States chose to exercise its lawful right of anticipatory self-defense. Now, barring a wildly unlikely eleventh-hour defensive first-strike by Israel, Iran’s entry into the Nuclear Club is a fait accompli. For Israel, the state most obviously threatened by these developments, all remaining self-defense options will necessarily be limited to plans for improved nuclear deterrence and expanded active defense.
Almost certainly, these inherently fallible programs will include an end to the country’s longstanding policy of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” and substantial additional deployments of both Arrow and Iron Dome missile interceptors.
Significantly, unlike the no-longer-viable preemption option, these inter-penetrating programs could come into play only after an Iranian nuclear force had already been deployed, or even after an Iranian nuclear attack had already been suffered.
There remains a vital antecedent question. Can anyone reasonably expect a newly-nuclear leadership in Tehran to be reliably rational? Exactly what could happen to Israel if pertinent Iranian leaders, endowed with offensive nuclear weapons, should, even on a single occasion, proceed to value certain presumed religious obligations more highly than their state’s physical survival?
This core question must be raised in reference to all possible Iranian regimes, not only to the present Ahmadinejad government. Although counter-intuitive, regime change in Tehran could conceivably yield an increased likelihood of irrational decision-making.
Irrationality is not the same as madness. Even an irrational Iranian leadership could maintain a consistent and “transitive” hierarchy of preferences.
Enemy irrationality would likely be less dangerous for Israel than having to face a genuinely mad adversary. Still, it will not be Israel’s option to decide which type of adversary it would prefer to face in Tehran,
Any Iranian leadership that slouches toward military conflict with Israel could, sooner than had long been expected, initiate regional nuclear war. Deliberately or inadvertently – as a “bolt from the blue” or 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-two 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 on 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 a 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.
All of these same effects, possibly even more expansive and destructive, would be unleashed upon Iran by Israel. This is because an immediate and massive Israeli retaliation for any Iranian nuclear aggression would be a certainty. Nonetheless, Iran’s comparatively greater suffering would offer little meaningful solace for Israel. “The comedy is finished.”
Louis René Beres, strategic and military affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, is professor of Political Science at Purdue University. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), he lectures and publishes widely on international relations and international law and is the author of ten major books in the field. In Israel, Professor Beres was chair of Project Daniel.
About the Author: Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is professor of political science and international law at Purdue University and the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and strategic studies.
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