Friday, February 26, 2010
The Wasteland: Israel and Iran after Nuclear War
Dr. Louis René Beres
Credo quia absurdum. "I believe because it is absurd." Now, years after the international community first blathered vainly about Iranian intentions, Tehran marches unhindered to full and final nuclear weapons status. Perhaps there will not be a nuclear war between Israel and Iran. Maybe, fortuitously, some system of stable mutual deterrence will evolve in time. Maybe, a kind of protracted "Cold War" will emerge to keep the peace.
Still, there is no reliable way to ascertain the probability of unique events, and an Iranian leadership that slouches enthusiastically toward apocalypse is not out of the question.
What would happen if Tehran were to launch a nuclear Jihad against Israel, whether as an atomic "bolt from the blue," or as a result of escalation – either deliberate or inadvertent?
Thirty years ago, I published the first of 10 books that contained authoritative descriptions of the physical and medical consequences of nuclear war, any nuclear war. These descriptions were drawn largely from a 1975 report by the National Academy of Sciences, and included the following still valid 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.
All of these same effects, possibly more expansive and destructive, would, reciprocally, be visited upon Iran by Israel. Immediate massive retaliation for Iranian aggression would be inevitable. In Iran, therefore, survivors would envy the dead. Here, the expected joys of "martyrdom" would fade quickly before death's other kingdom.
Waste and void. Darkness visible. No lilacs to breed out of the dead land, the cactus land. Before anything could be born in such an Iranian-created necropolis, a gravedigger would need to wield the forceps.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Dr. Louis René Beres lectures and publishes widely on matters of terrorism, strategy and international law. The author of several early books on nuclear war and nuclear terrorism, he is closely involved with Israeli security issues. Professor Beres’ most recent articles have appeared in International Security (Harvard), and in the Policy Paper series of the Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel). His opinion columns appear in such major newspapers as The New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, Chicago Tribune, Indianapolis Star, the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz (Israel) and The Jewish Press.