- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 9, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The comedy is finished!

- Pagliacci (Clowns)

Now, years after the international community has been deluding itself about Iranian nuclear intentions, Tehran openly and arrogantly confirms the worst. The Islamic republic is destined to become a fully nuclear power - international law and diplomacy be damned.

Not surprisingly, Iran has made clowns of all those smug world leaders who placed their faith in reason and statecraft. The principal loser in this lethal comedy is plainly apt to be Israel. What exactly does this microstate have to fear from a nuclear Iran?

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 generic descriptions were drawn largely from a 1975 report by the National Academy of Sciences and included the following still valid expectations: large temperature changes; contamination of food and water; disease epidemics in crops, domesticated animals and humans caused by ionizing radiation; shortening of growing seasons; irreversible injuries to aquatic species; widespread and long-term cancers because of 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.

What does all this mean to Israel, as it soon will face a determined and possibly jihadist nuclear adversary in Iran?

Overwhelming health problems would afflict the survivors of any Iranian nuclear attack upon Israel. Those difficulties would extend far 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 also would 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 survived the nuclear attack still would 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. The survivors would envy the dead.

Unanticipated interactions between individual effects of nuclear weapons would make matters worse.

Although any 11th-hour pre-emption would encounter overwhelming operational difficulties, Israel can never rely upon the still-smooth assurances of clown-leaders in Washington or elsewhere. Nor can it rely entirely upon its own system of ballistic missile defense to protect civilians, Arabs as well as Jews. Until now, it seemed to many that Israel could reasonably renounce its legal right to anticipatory self-defense and depend instead on promises from others. The many were wrong.

“The comedy is finished!”

Louis Rene Beres is a professor of political science at Purdue University and publishes widely on Israeli security matters.

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