iran - Reuters - November 17 2011
A Shahab missile. Even a hundred of them wouldn’t bring Israel down, one reckless voice said. Photo by Reuters
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It seems Iran's drive to attain nuclear weapons is confusing several Israeli leaders and defense experts. In recent weeks, they have been oscillating between fear, panic and outrageous remarks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offers apocalyptic images implying that nuclear weapons in Iranian hands would be like a second Holocaust and mean Israel's demise. Defense Minister Ehud Barak says that in a war with Iran not even 500 people would be killed, let alone 50,000.

The defense minister's ease in discussing casualties is only matched by his smugness. When asked this week for a comment on the mysterious explosion at the Revolutionary Guards base that killed 17 Iranian soldiers and officers, including a senior missile official, he responded, "May there be many more." This shocking comment would sound more natural coming from a top Iranian minister.

Another surprising comment was made by Uzi Rubin, the former head of the anti-missile Arrow program and now a private consultant to the defense industry. A week ago he told Ynet's Yoav Zeitun that "even a salvo of a hundred Shahab missiles wouldn't bring Israel down."

True, 75 tons of explosives (100 missiles each carrying a 750-kilogram warhead ) wouldn't wipe out Israel, but they would cause unprecedented casualties and property destruction. Incidentally, this is the same Rubin who once created the impression that the Arrow system is so good it would protect against ballistic missiles.

But the most problematic comment of all was made by Prof. Yitzhak Ben Israel, the chairman of the Israel Space Agency. It's hard to believe that a man who was a major general in the Israel Defense Forces, a head of the Defense Ministry's arms development authority, a Knesset member and a university lecturer with degrees in math, physics and philosophy is saying such things.

In an interview last week with Globes' Yuval Azulai, he was quoted as saying - after prefacing his remark with the words "the public is ignorant" - that "a single nuclear bomb doesn't destroy a country, not even a neighborhood in Tel Aviv. A nuclear bomb like the one the Iranians want to build has a radius of destruction and death of about 500 meters, and of lighter damage of 1,000 meters .... The public doesn't know exactly what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki ... but it's not sexy to talk about it."

So first of all, a reminder to Prof. Ben Israel about what really could happen if a "small" bomb of 10 kilotons (about as powerful as the bombs dropped on Japan ) explodes over Tel Aviv's city hall. In a radius of around 500 meters, everything, buildings and people, would be melted and vaporized. There would be nothing left south Jabotinsky Street, east of Dizengoff Street, north of King Saul Boulevard and west of Ichilov Hospital. Up to 30,000 people would die.

Within the next radius - up to 1,200 meters covering an area east of the beach, west of Namir Road, south of the Yarkon River and north of Sheinkin Street, most buildings would be destroyed, burying some 30,000 beneath them. There may be survivors, but there would apparently not be anyone to take care of them. The third radius would reach 2,500 meters; huge fires would rage there. No one would be available to rush to put out them out.

One could speculate that in an attack on Tel Aviv some 80,000 people could die. An equal number would die painful deaths over the next few months. This scenario is based on similar scenarios in Graham Ellison's book "Nuclear Terrorism," which describes what would happen in New York and other American cities if they were attacked with nuclear weapons.

And who says Iran would launch just one bomb at Israel and not two or three? This is the truth about the "not so bad" apocalyptic vision of Ben Israel, whose salary is paid for by the Israeli taxpayer.

Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film "Dr. Strangelove," a deranged American general orders a nuclear attack on Moscow. Since then, the name Strangelove has become a synonym for a mad military man/scientist who treats weapons of mass destruction light-heartedly. It seems the Israeli people should be concerned by more than the Iranian threat. They should be concerned that their fate is in the hands of such leaders and experts. Instead of Israel's leaders and officials making irresponsible declarations, they should express calm and cautiousness.

East Africa's lifesaver

This week Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni visited Israel. In their meetings with the president, prime minister and defense minister, they voiced concerns about the growing power of radical Islamists on the continent, especially in the east.

Museveni said Uganda is a Christian country and is concerned about radical Islam, while the Kenyan prime minister said he is worried about the constant infiltration of Islamic radicals from neighboring Somalia. Kenya has several hundred soldiers in Somalia who are helping in the fight against the Islamic Shabab militia.

Even though they didn't say so explicitly, the two leaders of these key East African countries see Israel as a lifesaver in the fight against Muslim extremists. Since its independence, Kenya has maintained very close intelligence and security ties with Israel.

Even though no arms deals were signed during their visits (Kenya signed a cooperation agreement on policing and law enforcement ), the two leaders said they would send officials to discuss an Israeli aid package and the purchase of equipment here. If these plans come to fruition, the Foreign Ministry will be able to speak proudly of Israel's return to its 1960s glory days in Africa.