This is the dead land
This is cactus land....
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
For a variety of reasons, neither Israel nor the US has exercised its lawful
right of anticipatory self-defense against Iran. As a result, Iran’s entry into
the Nuclear Club is effectively a fait accompli. In Israel, remaining
self-defense options will necessarily be limited to inherently fallible programs
and expanded active defense. Unlike a no-longerviable preemptive option, these
programs would come into play only after an Iranian nuclear force has been
deployed, or after an Iranian nuclear attack.
There is also a vital
antecedent question. Should Washington and Jerusalem expect a newly-nuclear
Tehran to be fully rational? What could happen to Israel if certain Iranian
leaders with nuclear weapons value certain presumed religious obligations more
highly than their own state’s survival? Ironically, and notwithstanding growing
hopes for democracy, a regime change in Tehran could yield a heightened
likelihood of irrationality.
There can be no assurances that any
post-Ahmadinejad regime would be “better.”
IRRATIONALITY is not the same
as madness. Even an irrational Iranian leadership could retain a distinct
hierarchy of preferences. This would likely be less dangerous than facing a
genuinely mad adversary, or one that is entirely unpredictable. In any event, as
it is not up to Israel to decide which type of adversary it would prefer,
Jerusalem needs to plan carefully for all three contingencies.
rational, irrational or mad, any Iranian leadership that slouches toward major
conflict with the “Zionist entity” could, perhaps in less than three years,
unleash regional nuclear war. This could be deliberate or inadvertent, as a
“bolt from the blue,” or as a fully unintended result of an inexorable religious
commitment to Jihad against “unbelievers,” let alone for much more mundane
reasons such as miscalculation, accident or coup d’état.
ago, I published the first of 10 books that contained authoritative descriptions
of the 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 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 injury to aquatic species; widespread and long-term cancers due to
inhalation of plutonium particles; radiation-induced abnormalities in persons in
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. These difficulties would extend beyond prompt burn
injuries. Retinal burns would even occur in people far from the actual
Tens of thousands would be crushed by collapsing buildings,
or torn to shreds by flying glass. Others would fall victim to raging
firestorms. Fallout injuries would include whole-body radiation; superficial
radiation burns produced by soft radiation; and injuries produced by deposits of
radioactive substances in 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 millions. Transportation
would revert to rudimentary levels. Food shortages would be critical and
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. Severe trauma would occasion
widespread disorientation and psychiatric disorders.
Normal human society
would cease. Unrestrained murder and banditry could soon augment plague and
epidemics. Many survivors would suffer serious degenerative diseases. They would
also expect impaired vision and sterility. An increased incidence of leukemia
and cancers of the lung, stomach, breast, ovary and cervix would be
Israelis who survive would still have to deal with
mushrooming insect hordes spreading from the radiation-damaged areas. Tens or
even hundreds of thousands of rotting corpses would pose the largest health
threat. Insects are generally more resistant to radiation than humans. This
fact, coupled with uncontrolled waste and untreated sewage, would generate tens
of trillions of flies and mosquitoes. These insects would make it impossible to
control typhus, malaria, dengue fever and encephalitis.
these effects would be unleashed upon Iran. An immediate massive Israeli
retaliation would be certain. In Iran, the eagerly expected joys of “martyrdom”
would fade in a flash.
IN ITS newest report, released in June 2011, the
UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “remains concerned about the
possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear-related
activities involving military-related organizations.” Now, when effective
preemption or “anticipatory selfdefense” by Israel or the US is likely no longer
practicable, and when any sustained nuclear deterrence would be unstable and
unpredictable, Jerusalem may need to place most of its survival bets on
ballistic missile defense (the Arrow and the shorterrange Iron
These gambles cannot be permitted to fail – an imperative that may
require IDF planners to begin disclosing specific features of Israel’s nuclear
posture, including limited information about secure nuclear bases, counter-city
targeting, and cumulative penetration capability.
If, for any reason,
these efforts to reduce “deliberate ambiguity” do not succeed, there would be no
lilacs to breed out of the now “dead land.”
Rather, before anything fully
human could be born, a pitifully sorrowful gravedigger would have to wield the
forceps.LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (PhD, 1971), and is
Prof. of International Law at Purdue. Born in Zürich, he is the author of
several major books on nuclear war, including
Terrorism and Global Security: The
Nuclear Threat (Westview, 1979); and
Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear
Strategy (D.C. Heath, Lexington Books, 1986). Some of his most recent articles
on these issues have appeared in The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs.