Middle East Nuclear Conflagration: Processes and Consequences

The discussions of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons miss a critical issue: evaluation of the consequences.  Iran has opined that the present historical reconstitution of the Jewish People in their ancestral homeland is advantageous because this expedites Jewish annihilation.  According to Rafsanjani, “one atomic bomb is all it would take to annihilate the entire country” and Ahmadinijad, “to wipe Israel off the map.”  Perhaps ‘some Europeans’ may be ‘comfortable’ with this notion and therefore a nuclear conflagration may seem tolerable.  We address three questions: Are these assumptions accurate?  Is this notion of ‘a reasonable price to pay’ realistic?  What is the likely ecological affect of a limited nuclear conflagration? 


This is a qualitative study (via simulation and based upon Grounded Theory) of a Middle East nuclear conflagration between Israel and Iran.  Assuming Iran is allowed to continue attaining nuclear weapons and delivery systems.  It does not discuss policies of pre-emption and nuclear deterrence, except as a possible result of the event, or legal issues.  The study accounts for: prevailing winds, agriculture, logistics, land and water use, disease (radiological and others), climate change and tactical and strategic geopolitical issues.  These aspects are simulated to show total affects of such a series of events upon Planet Earth.  Affects are evaluated, in the disciple of complex systems, with the planet as the system.  This shows that all humans are stakeholders. 

Threats are not transitory –Israel has been in a continuous state of war since 1862   threats are a feature of existence, not an ‘occurrence’ or ‘event’. 

Iran’s roles

Iran’s continued defiance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) implies that diplomacy has little chance of stopping a national nuclear acquisition policy.  Iranian policy is obvious from many factors, from the degree and types of secrets and materials hidden from inspectors, through obvious discrepancies in intent, and installations long kept hidden (e.g., Heavy water production at Arak (fuelled by natural uranium), uranium conversion and calutron plant at Isfahan and thousands of cascading centrifuges at Natanz).  Iran is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and subject to nuclear facilities inspections.  Sanctions have no effect – a ‘talk & build’ strategy postpones sanctions and prevents military actions; Europe dithers while they act, identical to North Korea.  This article assumes Iran succeeds to acquire such weapons, all such efforts are unsuccessful and the present regime remains in power. 

63 Peace between Rome and the Parthian
114-117 Trajian’s war against the Parthian
161 Parthian invasion of Syria
197-202 Eastern campaigns of Septimus Severus
224 Sassanid Persian dynasty
229-232 Perso-Roman war
231-232 Campaign of Severus Alexander
240 Persians capture Nisibis
241-244 Perso-Roman war
258-260 Perso-Roman war
296-297 Perso-Roman war
337-350 Perso-Roman war
359-361 Perso-Roman war
363 Perso-Roman war
371-376 Perso-Roman war
384 Perso-Roman peace
503-505 Perso-Roman war
524-531 Perso-Roman war
527-533 Perso-Roman war
533 ‘endless peace’ between Rome and Persia
540-562 Perso-Roman war
572-591 Perso-Roman war
606-628 Perso-Roman war (614 Persians capture Jerusalem)
680 Battle of Karbal

Persia has been at almost constant war with the west since the dawn of recorded history (e.g., Herodotus “The Persian Wars”) with aspirations of world domination and gaps occurring when defeated or subjugated.  Table 1 is a partial list of wars between Persia and the West, up to the seventh century First Jihad.  Persian culture is ancient, one of the oldest and most respected cultures on the planet.  Many minorities exist comfortably within this milieu (e.g., Azeris), but many are severely persecuted.  E.g., religious minorities including Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, and Bahai.  Zoroastrians and Bahais are both Persian origin (Zoroastrianism is the ancient Persian religion; its practitioners are sometimes called Parsees, an old word for Persians). 

Persia, as a nation, empire and culture, has 3000 years’ hegemonic aspirations.  The 1979 Islamic Republic Theocracy renewed historical Persian aspirations.  A legitimate discussion is whether these weapons’ acquisition is really intended for genocide, as repeatedly publicised by regime leaders, or for Gulf hegemony, with subsequent control of an overwhelming percentage of world oil supplies.  Perhaps both objectives are germane; with genocide as obfuscation policy? 


Nuclear-armed Iran would resemble no other nuclear power.  There could be no “balance of terror” (Mutually Assured Destruction) when suicide is national policy.  ‘Allah knows his own’ is a basic tenet of Islamic faith and allows deaths of fellow Muslims to bring the Mahdi (the “Twelfth Imam” is the messianic deliverer of Shia epistemology).  Would a nuclear-equipped Iran be pragmatic or messianic?  During the Iraq-Iran war, thousands of children had plastic ‘keys to heaven’ placed around their necks, while detonating minefields with their bodies.  A nuclear-armed Iran could explode instantaneously, unlike Cold War era nuclear threats, governed by assumptions of rationality.  Whether the ‘point’ is to bring the Mahdi, or to establish the Caliphate, is not germane.  It must be emphasised that use of nuclear weapons posses a threat to Israel.  Possession is sufficient for threat to the Arabs. 

Some attempt to claim “the Mullahs” would not attack Jerusalem, as it is important to Islam.  This forgets that these are Shia, where Karbalah is the third most important site, and Qom is the forth, Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Qoran.  Jerusalem would be attacked as the most germane strategic-value target. 

Moslem claims to Jerusalem result from a mistaken reading of one verse of the Qoran.  Ahmed Mahmad Oufa wrote (28 Aug. 2003) that the verse that mentions Muhammad’s night journey to a mosque has nothing to do with Jerusalem, but with a mosque near Medina.  Sura 17 states that Muhammad was brought at night from one mosque to a “more distant” mosque   aksa, in Arabic.  The Qoran specifically states it belongs to Jews.  Muslims recognized the area of the Dome of the Rock as holy because of Solomon’s Temple, as borne by the Arabic name for Jerusalem, Al-Quds; adapted from the original Arabic name for the Temple Mount: Bayt al-Maqdis   or Beit HaMikdash (Hebrew for Holy Temple).  Al Aksa mosque was built 621 years after Mohammed’s death.

Syria:    Many westerners fail to comprehend the Iran-Syria relationship; this relationship is not opportunistic, but much deeper.  While Syria is 90%, Sunni, the Alawite rulers are Shia (~5%); ‘descended’ of the eleventh century Assassins.  Satellite photos show the nuclear weapons site in Syria ostensibly bombed by Israel on 6 September 2007 were “wiped clean” by Syrian authorities.  Syria’s rush to clean up the bombing sites is further indication of Shia guilt to develop, build and deploy nuclear weapons. 

Iranian tactics

Iran would likely try not to use ONLY land-based missiles in an attack.  They would try to coordinate a multi-pronged, multi-media attack; more difficult but plays to their strength.  The likely scenario begins from the North.  In 2006, Hizbullah launched over 4000 missiles.  Despite UNFIL impotence, they would likely begin the same way, adding Syrian chemical weapons (Syria has some 700 chemical missiles). 

Nuclear forces would engage afterwards, when Israel appeared busy.  Then, launch a few hundred missiles with a few nuclear ones, hoping to overwhelm the shield.  Talk of “11,000 missiles” refers mostly to short-range rockets shot against US forces (long-range missiles are expensive).  The missiles against US and allied forces, would likely mix chemical, biological and ‘dirty-bombs’, with other devices (such as ship-bourn cargo container bombs), including Actions outside the theatre. 

Eldad Pardo, Iranian Affairs Specialist at Hebrew University, has estimated that “Every Iranian Embassy is a terror base”   diplomatic pouch inviolability makes these ‘bases’ a powerful weapon.  This simulation does not estimate casualties from concurrent explosions of dirty bombs in every western capital city, but tens of millions are possible.  Dirty bombs use cheap radioactive materials.  Multiple civilian airplanes striking New York were equally inconceivable.  Other operational scenarios are equally probable, such as detonation away from the embassy building, by Hezbollah operatives or other proxies. 

The primary issue is whether to begin with The Zionist Entity, or to first gain control of primary oil supply by taking Mecca, Medina and the Gulf region.  The prevailing opinion seems to be that they would begin with the oil as that fits the regional hegemony profile that has been their primary motivating concept for 3000 years.  As ethnic Persians, they have no love for Arabs; as Shia, they have no commitment to Sunnis. 

Capabilities’ analysis indicates that Iran would not be capable of more then a single strike within the coming decade, unless that strike was a terrorist strike, not designed as lethal.  A minimum of twenty-four devices are needed for a strategic first strike against Israel, accounting for in-flight attrition, a minimum of twelve devices on target.  Full first-strike capability is reached in about 2017.  This supports the idea they may prefer to use initial devices to ‘shock and awe’ Arab neighbours to gain functional power over the strategic oil resource.  However, it should be noted that if additional partners are added, as recent activity in Syria and Turkey indicates, this timeframe may change.  Iran’s declared strategic objective is annihilation, not ‘normal’ military goals; an uninhabitable country. 

Israeli tactics

Israel does not need to define targeting policy as “counterforce” but can prefer “countervalue”.  While US countervalue targeting during the “Cold War” was primarily against cities, in Israel’s case, urban population centres are of lesser deterrent value than oil fields.  Israel does not acknowledge a nuclear capability.  However, it is estimated that Israel possesses several hundred nuclear devices.  In addition, Israel possesses a triad based on air power, land-based ballistic missiles and sea-based cruise missiles.  Israeli maritime forces are a forward ‘first line of defence’.  The surface force is augmented by cruise-missiles-equipped submarines. 

Israel Air & Sea Forces can reach Iran.  The action on 6 September 2007 in Syria shows that capabilities exist to neutralise advanced air defence capabilities.  The vast majority of radiation fallout from exploding devices will settle among Arab neighbours and not in Israel (geography and weather mean that winds always tend from the Mediterranean, eastward) contributing to innumerable Arab casualties.  Fallout concentration may be quite intense.  No radiation should reach Iran from there, but radiation created in Iran by the counter bombing would tend eastwards.  One should expect millions of Pakistani casualties – worsened in monsoon season. 


Iranians are not westerners and one should not expect them to act as a westerner.  What desirable scenario maximises damage?  There are more alternatives than to shoot a large number of missiles, some having desired consequences; remembering that they have limited fissile material and high costs.  Europe is well within range of Iranian missiles from Lebanon. 
We assume Israel has nuclear capability.  It also has both delivery capability and the world’s best shield, though any defence can be overwhelmed by a large, coordinated attack.  Defence systems can never be 100% reliable   Arrow is designed to intercept ballistic missiles, Patriot to intercept those penetrating the first shield. 

Israel’s tools are estimated to have a much higher yield then Iran, probably at least 10:1.  While Iran is making terrific progress with their nuclear programme, their technologies seem highly ‘conventional’, providing very low yields, probably in the 10-30 Kiloton (KT) range and difficult to predict. 

With 3500 centrifuges, Iran can make nuclear material for one device per year, of 10-30 KT yield.  This rate would, of course, change drastically if the Boushir reactor begins to manufacture Plutonium and if they acquire plutonium separation technologies, and could reach five per year. 

A.    Presume Iran seriously considers implementing the Rafsanjani/Ahmadinajad model of annihilating Israel via a first strike nuclear attack; under the assumption that Israel would be annihilated but that the Iranian population would suffer ‘only’ tens of millions of causalities. 

B.    This is wrong.  Israel would survive, albeit with horrific damage. 

C.    In survival terms, Israel’s greatest weakness is its strength; all water in Israel comes from rain, essentially there are no external water sources.  Rain is clean, after the first air ‘wash’.  Israel has large and advanced desalination plants.  Desalination, with rain water utilisation, at which Israel is adroit, would ensure a clean water supply – clean and recovered within a short period of time. 

D.    Israel has a triad, multi-pronged second-strike capability, planes, missiles and sea-based. 

Samson option

There is no reason to assume that Israel, fearing and perceiving total annihilation, would strike only Iran.  Basic logic, certainly basic Levantine logic, demands striking all adversaries.  Mecca and Medina would certainly be hit (“You hit our holy sites – Jerusalem, Hebron – we reciprocate).  Saudi, Gulf and Iranian oil facilities would be strategic targets.

In 1991, during ‘Desert Storm’, Iraq set 789 Kuwaiti oil wells afire.  These were relatively minor fires and not entire oil fields   more tantrum than military tactic – even so, it took a great effort and quite a long time to extinguish.  To put this into perspective, the Kuwaiti fires produced almost 3,400 metric tons of soot per day, burning one to one and a quarter million barrels of oil per day.  The smoke rose some six kilometres into the atmosphere and smoke plumes travelled 1,600 kilometres.  These fires caused minor climate issues throughout the world, including affecting temperature and rainfall for a period of one or more years.  These were children’s bonfires compared to the entire Middle East going up in nuclear conflagration.  Iran has about 1,300 oil wells.  Think of Saudi (about 1,500 wells), Kuwaiti, Qatari and Iranian oil fields and refineries enflamed; ten to twenty billions barrels of oil burning per day. 

‘Normal’ aerial bombardment is unlikely to achieve 100% rate oil wells’ igniting.  However, one cannot know how they would be bombarded – standard munitions, atomics, thermobaric, fuel air – many possibilities exist and the likely scenario would unlikely be confined to a single option.  One gram of soot can block out two-thirds of the light falling over an area of eight to ten square meters.  Is the increase linear?  No one knows, but if it is, we may see 68,000 metric tons of soot.  This is equivalent to a mega volcanic explosion, damage may equal the largest volcanic explosions in known history.  Nothing could extinguish or cap the fires, because of contamination. 

Expected results

Never look at global power plays locally.  Iran desires to be, and to be recognised as, a major World Power, as they have not been since First Jihad.  They know Israel will hit hard, if and when it hits and they can’t handle that.  They need a great deal of power behind them BEFORE they use nukes.  The only source of that power is control of the entire oil supply chain, not just Hormuz; once they control the world’s oil, Europeans will be cowered, and cooperate. 

A.    Hundreds of millions of direct deaths, Israeli, Iranian and Arab, and hundreds of millions of people crippled with incurable sickness for tens of years; probably well into the twenty-second century. 

B.    Additional tens of millions of Arabs would be ‘de-manned’ – very few Middle Eastern Males in the area between the Gulf and Nile would be capable of reproduction; very few Middle Eastern women would be capable of healthy reproduction.  Of the few that would, the incidence of genetic disease would be very high, tens of percent. 

C.    A devastated climate over the entire area.

D.    The entire population east of the Jordon River, not supplied by desalination, would be left with no fresh water supplies.  In other words, destruction of the ME Arab population.  Muslim holy places, whether Sunni or Shia, would be devastated and contaminated. 

E.    Turkey/Anatolia would be devastated by climate change; much of Asia Minor uninhabitable, up to and into the Caucasus (Georgia, Ossetia etc).  The immediate affects upon Armenia and Azerbaijan are unclear. 

F.    Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian and Azeri refuges flood Southern Europe and Russia. 

G.    European oil supplies are devastated – all Gulf energy, ceases to exist.  Some sixty percent of the world’s oil would cease to exist or cease to be accessible, for hundreds of years. 

H.    Fires in these oilfields would rage for many years.  These would cause massive Global Climate Change, too complex to predict.  Atmospheric particulates would be greater than any since dinosaurs’ destruction. 

I.    Europe would be affected by massive climate change.  At least Greece, Cyprus, the Balkans, and north to Hungary, Romania, much of Italy, would have massive water supply issues, plus epidemics and hunger.

J.    Prevailing winds are eastwards.  Particulates and contaminants would spread to Pakistan, India, South East Asia and China, and perhaps as far as the US West coast, and north to Siberia, endangering the southern Siberian oil fields. 


The result of such Iranian action is total devastation of the Arab world and significant devastation of Europe.  Europeans will pay a fantastic price –fifty percent of current oil production goes off-line.  Arabs that talk about Jihad, don’t realize this would end the Arab population. 

What if other Arabs states, such as Egypt and Jordan then view Israel as fatally weakened and decide to invade?  It should be remembered that Egypt is uniquely vulnerable.  One well-placed bomb destroying the Aswan Damn would wipe out the entire Nile valley, essentially eliminating Egypt as a functioning country.  A pre-emptive counterforce strike against Syria would wipe out twenty million persons, with many secondary deaths within a three-month period; etcetera. 

There is no doubt that nuclear confrontation, even limited, can be any less than horrible and disastrous, particularly a confrontation based upon intentional genocide, coupled with complaisance towards the population of the launching country.  This combination of factors infers no ‘logical’ limitations to the confrontation or tactical considerations.  The result of such a conflagration would be surprising, with awful devastation in Israel, but permanent and complete decommissioning of it a near impossibility, while the results to the Arab world would be irreversible devastation of an unprecedented nature, both short- and long-term. 

The ‘other’ results include, but are not limited to some fifty percent or more of the world’s oil supplies and tens of percent of gas supplies, going off-line; inestimable atmospheric catastrophe, and economic-social devastation unseen in recorded history.  This means the end of globalisation, the end of the oil-based economy. 

Further study might examine the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear devices but then only using them to attain Gulf suzerainty, for geopolitical/strategic control of the world’s oil supplies.  Many possibilities open up to a country that controls 70% of a world critical commodity.  For instance, what would be the effect upon world economies of oil prices differentiated by blackmail?  Say, China pay $150 per barrel, while the United States and United Kingdom are forced to pay $450 per barrel or more, entirely at the whim of ‘their owner’. 

Persia delenda est … Ceterum censeo Persia esse delendam?