Watching President Obama and Elie Weisel at Buchenwald, I came to the conclusion
that how you feel about the Middle East is heavily shaped by whether you think that Iran
A) would never use a nuclear weapon against Israel, B) might use one, or C) is determined to use one and complete a second Holocaust.
It will probably not surprise you that I am in category B; I suspect those in category A find it unthinkable and project their sensibilities onto the Iranian leadership, concluding they would ultimately find it unthinkable as well. I suspect those in category C find it equally unthinkable that a sufficient number of Iranians might object to religious zealots steering a nation of 65 million on a path of mutually assured destruction.
UPDATE: This is one of those topics where if you write about it too much, you get deluged with e-mails from armchair gnenerals. But a reader writes in, noting that “Israel cannot sustain a nuclear attack; Iran might.”
It really depends on how you define “sustain.” I presume that a good chunk of the Israeli nuclear arsenal is submarine-based and away from likely target ports in Israel. They’re estimated to have at least 60 nuclear weapons. Let’s say that after an Iranian strike, what remains of the IDF has the capacity to launch 15 nuclear missiles. More than 60 percent of Iran’s population lives in cities; it’s not likely you would need more than one to inflict catastrophic damage on each city. A few years back, the earthquake in Bam killed 23,000 people, and revealed that a lot of the structures were substandard. You can imagine the damage a nuke would do, how lousy the Iranian rescue and recovery infrastructure would be, and how many would die from burns and radiation in the aftermath.
Would Iran “survive”? Sure, in that some people not dying of radiation sickness would still
be living within Iranian territory. But it would cease as a functioning state; it would be an impoverished, largely lawless desert territory with radioactive splotches across the landscape.