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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Unthinkable? Think tank sees Israel, not Iran, surviving a Mideast nuclear war

WASHINGTON Iran could sustain up to 28 million and Israel 800,000 casualties in a nuclear war between the two countries.

Anthony Cordesman
A report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies envisioned a nuclear missile war between Iran and Israel that would last 21 days. Authored by former Defense Department strategist Anthony Cordesman, the report said Israel could conceivably survive a nuclear war, but Iran would not.

"Iranian recovery is not possible in the normal sense of the term," the report, entitled "Iran, Israel and Nuclear War," said. "Israeli recovery [is] theoretically possible in population and economic terms."

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The report was released on Nov. 19 amid Iranian threats to destroy the Jewish state. Cordesman said Israel could cause tremendous damage to Iran because of its much more powerful nuclear weapons.

"Israel and U.S. capability to preempt is factor, but main issue may be Israel's ability to clearly develop mutual assured destruction and U.S. capability to deploy credible level of extended deterrence," the report said.

Israel has produced nuclear weapons with a yield of one megaton, the report said. In contrast, Iran would be unable to assemble a weapon of more than 100 kilotons.

A megaton weapon could inflict third-degree burns at three times the radius, and radiation fallout could kill others at a distance of 130 kilometers. A 100 kiloton bomb could result in casualties within a radius of 13 kilometers.

The report expressed confidence in Israeli missile defense capabilities. Cordesman said most Iranian nuclear missiles could be intercepted by the Israeli-origin Arrow-2 missile defense system, bolstered by the U.S-origin PAC-2 Guided Enhanced Missile Plus.

The report envisions a war between 2010 and 2020, when Iran was expected to acquire an arsenal of up to 30 nuclear warheads. Cordesman expected Israel to have more than 200 nuclear warheads, launched by ground- and sea-based systems.

"Prevention [of Iran's nuclear weapons] may stimulate massive covert, dispersed effort," the report said. "Preemption becomes radically different once Iran has nuclear armed force."

Cordesman expects Syria, albeit without nuclear weapons, to join any war. The report envisions Syria firing chemical and other nonconventional weapons that could kill up to 800,000 Israelis. For its part, Syria could lose 18 million in an Israeli nuclear retaliation.

Egypt could also join an Iranian war against Israel. The report expected Israel to retaliate by firing nuclear missiles toward Alexandria, Aswan, Cairo and other cities. Cordesman said Egypt's Suez Canal and Aswan Dam would be destroyed.

"Rational actors do not fight nuclear wars, but history is not written about rational actors behaving in a rational manner," the report said.

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