Defense Ministry experts estimate that in a war with Iran and Hezbollah, some 200 Israeli civilians will die. If Syria joins the war as well, the number of fatalities could rise to 300.
A year ago Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in an interview with Army Radio that in a war with Iran "far fewer than 500 [Israeli civilians] would die." Barak downplayed the threat and said predictions of thousands or tens of thousands of dead civilians were "hysterical" and groundless.
The forecasts, recently presented to IDF officers and government leaders, were made by the defense establishment's research operations experts. They are based on the number of missiles and rockets the enemy has, data accumulated in the wake of previous wars, and preparedness in the Israeli home front.
The predictions do not claim to be precise but to provide a general picture, which would be affected by the actual developments.
Western research institutes have published studies saying Iran has several hundred long-range Shahab missiles of various models capable of hitting targets in Israel.
The assumption here is that even if Israel attacks the Iranian nuclear facilities and Tehran strikes back, it will not use its entire missile reservoir. Some of the missiles will fail to launch or will be hit on the ground by the Israeli Air Force. Others will miss and fall in open areas.
However, a few dozen missiles will presumably hit population concentrations, most likely in the Dan region.
In the Gulf War of 1991 the IDF's research operations experts estimated three civilians would be killed by every Iraqi missile. Ultimately 40 Scud missiles were fired and one man was killed by a direct hit.
Iran is believed to have more advanced missiles than Iraq had. But the relatively low fatality estimate is also a function of the Israeli public's behavior and its level of preparedness.
In the 2006 Second Lebanon War it emerged that when the public's obedience to instructions was relatively high, the number of casualties was low. The Katyusha shells from Lebanon killed people who were outside or in unprotected areas inside their homes, as opposed to inside a shelter or protected space.
Construction in the center of Israel is not very dense. The 1950s construction laws required buildings to have a concrete support, which reduces the danger of complete collapse. The high number of protected spaces and shelters could also reduce the number of casualties, the experts say.
Another critical factor in preventing casualties is the time between the alert and the missile's landing. The American X-band radar can give a 15-minute alert before an Iranian missile is expected to land in the center of the country, a reasonable time to prepare.
On the basis of these components, the experts calculated an estimate of less than one fatality for every ballistic missile. In addition, Hezbollah has not only short and medium-range Katyusha rockets but dozens or hundreds of relatively accurate M-600 rockets, which could strike the center of the country. Hezbollah also has an estimated 60,000 rockets.
In a possible confrontation with Hezbollah, much depends on the Air Force and intelligence community's ability to strike the long-range rockets on the ground before they are launched. In the Second Lebanon War, the IDF struck dozens of Hezbollah operatives' homes in Lebanon on the first night of the war, destroying most of the organization's medium-range rockets before they were used. The experts say this would be harder to do next time.
Some 4,200 rockets, mostly Katyushas, were fired at Israel's north, killing 54 people, 42 of them civilians. The estimate, based on the past war, says one civilian will be killed for every 80 rockets from Lebanon.