DEBKA-Net-Weekly military and intelligence sources report that on Monday night, November 22, and on Tuesday, November 23, the air defense exercise dubbed The Defenders was geared to a possible Israeli tactical nuclear weapon strike against its nuclear facilities.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources have come to the conclusion that Israel is capable of launching missiles tipped with tactical nuclear warheads from ground bases at home and from the Israel Navy's five modern German-built Dolphin-class submarines. They estimate that Israeli cruise missiles carry a 200kg nuclear warhead containing 6kg of plutonium and are capable of range of more than 2,000 km. They can be delivered with a high degree of accuracy from the Dolphin submarines.
Western military sources say that Israel's acquisitions of these submarines from Germany were actuated by the proven effectiveness of its home-manufactured cruise missiles. The subs are fitted with torpedo tubes adapted to launching nuclear-capable cruise missiles to a distance of 1,500-2,400 km.
Tehran is also acting on the assumption that Israeli intelligence has mapped most of its covert nuclear sites, many of which have been sunk into fortified chambers between 60 and 90 meters underground. To reach them, Iranian war chiefs believe Israel has developed tactical nuclear depth and gravity bombs for blowing up fortified underground bunkers and/or heavily-defended target locations difficult or impossible to access with conventional weapons.
Long-term destruction, no civilian harm
Tactical nuclear weapons have never been used in the history of international conflicts. Tehran assumes Israel may be willing to pioneer this class of warfare for two goals:
1. To totally grind Iran's nuclear facilities to ashes so that they will take many years rebuild. This would disprove some Western intelligence contentions that bombing the Iranian program would be a short-term remedy shutting it down for no more than a couple of years.
Iranian calculations are a lot more pessimistic. They fear that if, for instance, their uranium enrichment facilities in Natanz, the uranium mines in Yazd and the secret military nuclear laboratories in South and North Tehran were struck by tactical nuclear weapons, they would need five to six years to rebuild the installations and plants from scratch and decontaminate their locations.
2. Since most of Iran's nuclear installations are located near civilian populations, its war planners expect tactical nuclear weapons to be used by Israel so as not to expose civilians to collateral contamination. These weapons focus tightly on targeted locations and do not spread radiation over wide areas.
For this reason, DEBKA-Net-Weekly military sources say, the planners of Iran's air defense exercise did not waste time or strength on drills for the protection of civilian populations near the Iranian facilities. But, on the contrary, in view of the war games' poor results, some began considering parking large numbers of civilians at nuclear sites ahead of a potential US or Israel attack, as human shields.
In 2003, when US troops invaded Iraq, the dictator Saddam Hussein tried this trick but failed to save his regime.
Human shields and an India-Pakistan status quo
Iran is taking steps of its own to counter this purported Israeli strike strategy:
While planning to loose a shower of ballistic missiles on Israel in response to an attack, the Iranians are also trying hard to beat the clock and put together a primitive nuclear device or radioactive dirty bombs for their own use or for their Middle East allies to try out on Israeli targets.
They also see Israel's potential as the first user of tactical nuclear weapons offering them a major diplomatic and propaganda advantage to justify developing their own nuclear weapons quite openly.
In that case, Tehran would go for a nuclear balance on the India-Pakistan model.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the famous “Doomsday Clock” in 1947 to convey how close humanity is to “catastrophic destruction.” The clock reached its high-point – 2 minutes to midnight – after the first hydrogen bomb tests in 1953.
The BAS moved the clock back to 17 minutes after the end of the Cold War but it has been steadily ticking forward toward midnight since then, with rogue states such as North Korea and now Iran developing nuclear weapons, and with tensions rising between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, and Israel and Iran.
It currently stands at 5 minutes to midnight.
If Israel does strike Iran with a tactical nuclear weapon, the clock would move to one minute, or perhaps half a minute, before midnight.