Articles

MAIN LESSON OF THE CURRENT CRISIS IN THE MIDDLE EAST DON'T ALLOW IRAN NUCLEAR WEAPONS

 

17 July 2006

 

Louis Rene Beres

Professor of International Law

Department of Political Science

Purdue University

West Lafayette IN  47907

USA

 

TEL   765/494-4189

FAX   765/494-0833

E MAIL       BERES@POLSCI.PURDUE.EDU

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With mounting evidence that Hezbollah-fired rockets can cause Israel considerable damage, one point should stand out above all others: Under no circumstances should Iran be allowed to reach the stage at which it could launch nuclear weapons. In the presumed absence of effective constraints by the so-called “international community,” Israel now has not only the right - but also a distinct obligation – to act preemptively in its own essential defense.

 

Less than half the size of a large county in California, the Jewish State faces a determined enemy that does not pretend to observe international law. Unless Israel and/or the United States acts promptly in "anticipatory self-defense," both countries could soon be held hostage to Iranian nuclear blackmail. The U.S. probably won't do it. As for Israel, it would  be taking enormous political and other unprecedented risks by striking first. Yet, the costs to Israel of not striking first are apt to be far greater. These costs could include complete annihilation.

 

International law is not a suicide pact. No country can be required to cooperate in its own extermination.  Leaving Iran to the predictably "tough sanctions" of the United Nations could bring  Israel to the very margins of survival.

 

Israel is not Iran. Israel does not declare itself at war with Iran or even with any Arab state. Israel holds nuclear weapons quietly, unthreateningly, without bravado - and only to prevent its catastrophic destruction by enemy state aggression. It is altogether unimaginable that Israel would ever resort to such weapons as an initial move of war. A nuclear Iran, however, could at some point consider atomic first-strike attacks upon Israel with plainly genocidal intent. After all, they say so openly - every day.  

 

What does Israel have to fear? Twenty-five years ago I published the first of seven books that described the expected consequences of a nuclear war. These nightmarish effects were drawn largely from a major report by the National Academy of Sciences in 1975 They included large temperature changes; contamination of food and water; disease epidemics in crops, domesticated animals, and humans due to 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 nuclear attack upon Israel. These problems would extend beyond the consequences of prompt burn injuries. Retinal burns would occur in the eyes of persons far from the explosions. 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 well beyond capacity. Water supplies would become altogether 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 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 absolutely no therapeutic services.

 

Normal human society would cease. The pestilence of unrestrained murder and banditry would 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.

 

Many balanced relationships in nature would be upset by the extensive fallout. Israelis who survive the nuclear attack 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, the largest health threat would be posed by tens or even hundreds of thousands of rotting human corpses.  The survivors would envy the dead.

 

This is only the tip of the iceberg; indeed, it is a vast understatement of what could be expected. Interactions between individual effects of nuclear weapons would make matters far worse. It follows that Israel must never allow a still openly genocidal Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Although any Israeli defensive strike would encounter staggering operational difficulties, this is one of those times in which the expected costs of doing nothing would be much, much greater.

       

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LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is Professor of International Law at Purdue. He is author of several of the earliest major books on nuclear strategy and nuclear war, including APOCALYPSE: NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN WORLD POLITICS (The University of Chicago Press, 1980). He is also Chair of Project Daniel, a small private group that  issued its own special report on ISRAEL'S STRATEGIC FUTURE to the former Prime Minister.


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