In an essay for the Jerusalem Post, Israeli historian Benny Morris lays out the depressingly plausible scenario:
The second holocaust will be quite different. One bright morning, in five or 10 years, perhaps during a regional crisis, perhaps out of the blue, a day or a year or five years after Iran's acquisition of the Bomb, the mullahs in Qom will convene in secret session, under a portrait of the steely-eyed Ayatollah Khomeini, and give President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, by then in his second or third term, the go-ahead.
The orders will go out and the Shihab III and IV missiles will take off for Tel Aviv, Beersheba, Haifa and Jerusalem, and probably some military sites, including Israel's half dozen air and (reported) nuclear missile bases. Some of the Shihabs will be nuclear-tipped, perhaps even with multiple warheads. Others will be dupes, packed merely with biological or chemical agents, or old newspapers, to draw off or confuse Israel's anti-missile batteries and Home Front Command units.
With a country the size and shape of Israel (an elongated 20,000 square kilometers), probably four or five hits will suffice: No more Israel. A million or more Israelis in the greater Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem areas will die immediately. Millions will be seriously irradiated. Israel has about seven million inhabitants. No Iranian will see or touch an Israeli. It will be quite impersonal.
Some of the dead will inevitably be Arab - 1.3 million of Israel's citizens are Arab and another 3.5 million Arabs live in the semi-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Haifa have substantial Arab minorities. And there are large Arab concentrations immediately around Jerusalem (in Ramallah-Al Bireh, Bir Zeit, Bethlehem) and outside Haifa. Here, too, many will die, immediately or by and by.
It is doubtful whether such a mass killing of fellow Muslims will trouble Ahmadinejad and the mullahs. The Iranians don't especially like Arabs, especially Sunni Arabs, with whom they have intermittently warred for centuries. And they have a special contempt for the (Sunni) Palestinians who, after all, though initially outnumbering the Jews by more than 10 to 1, failed during the long conflict to prevent them from establishing their state or taking over all of Palestine.
Besides, the Iranian leadership sees the destruction of Israel as a supreme divine command, as a herald of the second coming, and the Muslims dispatched collaterally as so many martyrs in the noble cause. Anyway, the Palestinians, many of them dispersed around the globe, will survive as a people, as will the greater Arab nation of which they are part. And surely, to be rid of the Jewish state, the Arabs should be willing to make some sacrifices. In the cosmic balance sheet, it will be worth the candle.
Read it all. With Iran on track to realizing its nuclear ambitions and Ahmadinejad confidently predicting the end of the "criminal zionist regime", does anyone doubt this is the likely scenario? Will any country, even the US, move pre-emptively, or even after the fact? Can Israel?
Taking their cue from the successful IAF destruction of Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, the Iranians duplicated and dispersed their facilities and buried them deep underground (and the Iranian targets are about twice as far from Israel as was Baghdad). Taking out the known Iranian facilities with conventional weapons would take an American-size air force working round-the-clock for more than a month.
At best, Israel's air force, commandos and navy could hope to hit only some of the components of the Iranian project. But, in the end, it would remain substantially intact - and the Iranians even more determined (if that were possible) to attain the Bomb as soon as possible. It would also, without doubt, immediately result in a world-embracing Islamist terrorist campaign against Israel (and possibly its Western allies) and, of course, near-universal vilification. Orchestrated by Ahmadinejad, all would clamor that the Iranian program had been geared to peaceful purposes. At best, an Israeli conventional strike could delay the Iranians by a year or two.
IN SHORT order, therefore, the incompetent leadership in Jerusalem would soon confront a doomsday scenario, either after launching their marginally effective conventional offensive or in its stead, of launching a preemptive nuclear strike against the Iranian nuclear program, some of whose components are in or near major cities. Would they have the stomach for this? Would their determination to save Israel extend to preemptively killing millions of Iranians and, in effect, destroying Iran?
This dilemma had long ago been accurately defined by a wise general: Israel's nuclear armory is unusable. It can only be used too early or too late. There will never be a "right" time. Use it "too early," meaning before Iran acquires similar weapons, and Israel will be cast in the role of international pariah, a target of universal Muslim assault, without a friend in the world; "too late" means after the Iranians have struck. What purpose would that serve?
I am unable to see any realistic alternative scenario. Even if Israel were able to successfully launch a pre-emptive strike to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities, the Iranians would then retaliate and the world would condemn Israel as the aggressor. And if missiles were launched, Israel's anti-missile defenses would need to achieve a 100% success rate, a virtual impossibility.
Can anyone offer an alternate scenario not based on wishful thinking?
Hat tip: Pajamas Media