A short-term scenario within weeks for a conventional Israeli operation against a nuclear Iran – which we address in the first article in this issue – is not the only proposal under discussion in Jerusalem. An alternative plan with a longer timeline is revealed here for the first time by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources.
This scenario draws on the assumption that Iran may not yet have built a nuclear bomb capable of delivery by a ballistic missile, but has developed two cruder nuclear devices: One can be delivered by an airplane or a ship and the other is a radioactive or dirty bomb, which is cheaper and easier to make and can be used by Iran’s proxy terrorists.
That is why those sources shrug off American officials’ upbeat assertions that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has, after all, not actually ordered construction to start on a nuclear bomb, or his purported seven-year old fatwa alleged to have banned Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon.
Israel’s military and intelligence have put together a completely different picture which makes both those premises – and the conventional Western wisdom regarding a nuclear Iran – irrelevant. Above all, Israel’s leaders are compelled to come to grips with a more realistic danger and making appropriate preparations.
A tsunami against Tel Aviv triggered by a crude nuclear device
The preparations Israel has put in train rest on the presumption that Tehran, in line with its avowed objective of destroying the Zionist state, is plotting to attack Israel with a crude nuclear device, regardless of whether or not the Netanyahu government decides to go to war on Iranian military nuclear facilities. To the world, Tehran would designate a prior attack “preemptive” and a subsequent offensive “retaliatory.”
Israeli war planners have mapped out Tehran’s estimated step-by-step scenario for a low-grade nuclear attack:
1. Step one would be to set Israel’s borders light with assaults from Syria, Lebanon (Hizballah) and the Gaza Strip (Hamas and Jihad Islami). Egypt’s participation from Sinai must also be taken into account.
(This prospect has prompted proposals for the Israel Defense Forces – IDF – to station a reconstructed Southern Army of seven divisions on the Egyptian Sinai border.)
According to intelligence input – not just hypotheses – Iran’s leaders have set their minds on a flash war, to be kept short by their nuclear resources. Neither missiles nor ground combat play a part in the Iranian scenario.
2. A lone civilian plane or ship carrying a large nuclear device would take off from Lebanon with Athens or Cyprus registered as its destination. Suicide air crews and frogmen, who have already completed specialist training courses, would detonate the device within 50-60 kilometers off the Israeli Mediterranean coast.
The plane, taking off most probably from Beirut, would first fly west over the Mediterranean, then abruptly veer southeast and, within moments, fly over Rosh Hanikra, Israel’s most northwestern point on the Lebanese border. There too the UNIFIL peace force for Lebanon has its headquarters.
Israeli warplanes would not be given a chance to scramble against the solo Iranian flight in the moments before it cut out to sea and crashed, its suicide crew trained to detonate the nuclear device aboard on contact with the water’s surface.
No missiles, ground combat or long-range bombers needed
For the same exercise by sea, suicide frogmen would be dropped from small boats sailing out of Lebanon or Cyprus. They would drop their deadly nuclear cargo 50-60 kilometers off the Israeli shore and so menace its major urban centers, Tel Aviv, Netanyahu and Haifa.
This tactic would save Iran having to launch ballistic missiles or long-range bombers which might be intercepted by US or Israeli missile shields and challenged by Israeli Air Force warplanes.
3. Iran’s strategists give high odds for their nuclear explosion at sea triggering a tsunami towering 50-60 meters high for inundating Israel’s coastal plain, where the bulk of its population is concentrated. If it were detonated off Rosh Hanikra, they calculate the deadly waves would be hurled into Haifa Bay and flood Haifa and Acre (350,000 inhabitants) up to 42 kilometers (26 miles) inland, before crashing onto the Carmel Mountain range (500 meters high) and being washed back to sea.
This backwash would sweep up every object in its path and complete the destruction.
The best-case scenario for the strategists in Tehran would be for a nuclear-triggered tsunami to deluge the most densely inhabited part of Israel and its financial and commercial heartland, the Tel Aviv conurbation. It might then roll on east and engulf a population of 2.9 million together with Israel’s missile and nuclear centers, before smacking into the Jerusalem Hills (average height of 670 meters) at the town of Bet Shemesh and sweeping back.
Not put off by collateral harm to Lebanese Shiite centers
However, the Iranian war planners figure they have a better chance of pulling off their nuclear-cum-tsunami exercise opposite Rosh Hanikra in the north than Tel Aviv further south, because Beirut is a more secure and accessible exit point for an Iranian plane or vessel with a nuclear cargo than Nicosia.
4. The Iranians are not deterred by the widespread radioactive fallout, casualties and long-term pollution caused Israel also swamping southern and parts of central Lebanon, even though the collateral victims would be Shiite population centers from which their Lebanese surrogate the Hizballah draws its troops.
5. As to the dirty bomb scenario, Israel’s military planners don’t rule out Tehran’s possible transfer of dirty bombs to Hizballah and, through its contacts, to Palestinian allies in Gaza and the West Bank. By putting a radioactive bomb in their hands, Iran would be able to stage coordinated attacks on Israel with a nuclear-triggered tempest from the sea and a radioactive bomb from inland.
Counter-terror experts have long believed that terrorists and radicals would eventually get hold of a crude, easy-to-use “dirty bomb,” which combines radioactive material with conventional explosives and whose foremost danger is the spread of radioactive contamination.
A dirty bomb for Hizballah and Palestinian extremists
These Apocalyptic scenarios have not come up in the six-power (P5-1) negotiations with Iran or the back channel exchanges going back and forth between Tehran and the United States. Neither are they broached in the thousands of articles and analyses appearing in the world media and their often sanitized, schematic arguments challenging the sense of Israel waging war on Iran and its ability to cripple the Islamic Republic’s nuclear capabilities.
Israel’s war preparations therefore go forward regardless. Its leaders are chiefly struggling with ways to avert the disaster of a low-grade nuclear attack on the country, forestalling Tehran and, in any event, of cutting down the damage and losses in prospect.
It is understood by most DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources that Israel would respond to an Iranian nuclear strike in kind.
This putative scenario for an Israel-Iran war would probably delay its outbreak to the fall or early winter of 2012, i.e., between September and November, compared with the short-term plan which may be weeks away.