No One Will Say How Much a War With Iran Will Cost Us

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Israeli air force jet taking off for a drill
Israeli air force jet taking off for a drillCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has directed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for a military option against Iran. The army has gotten an extra $5 billion to equip and train for the day. Israel has held discussions with the Biden administration on military cooperation. All that’s left to arrange is the problem of preparing the Israeli population for an inevitable Iranian retaliation.

We’re not only unprepared, we don’t even have a good sense of what we should be preparing for. The only statistic that we have to work with is one that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak made public a decade ago, namely that the number of fatalities would be fewer than 500 and that experts working for the IDF pegged the figure at the inconsequential figure of about 300 dead. They told us that the figure was based on the number of missiles Iran had at the time, its launch capabilities, the warning times that the IDF would be capable of giving civilians and the missiles’ lack of precision.

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In the meantime, the number of missiles Iran can deploy has certainly grown. But by how much? Have their targeting and destructive capacity been enhanced? Will those unfortunate fatalities be mainly in Israel’s outlying areas? In the major cities? Do the numbers perhaps need to be revised?

In truth, these are irrelevant, hollow questions. Because even in regard to Hezbollah, about whom we would hope the intelligence we possess is more accurate, the number of missiles in its possession is estimated at between 120,000 and 150,000. That is a number Israel is not prepared for.

A country about to enter a war would expect its citizens to panic, to carefully inspect the condition of their shelters, try on gas masks, empty the supermarket shelves and get their hands on airline tickets to anywhere else in the world, even COVID hot spots. Such a country’s government would have been expected to hold nationwide civil defense drills, rehearsing civilian evacuations. Hospitals would be preparing to cope with mass casualties. Schools would be required to rehearse their students heading to the shelters in a quick and orderly fashion. Public service television broadcasts would be explaining where to gather, what to do and how to take cover.

Strangely enough, none of this is happening. That’s either because the government doesn’t really intend to make good on its threat and so there’s no need to prepare for Iranian retaliation, or the government doesn’t think that defending the country from an existential Iranian threat includes protecting its citizens. Ordinary Israelis are regarded as collateral damage. Because even if it involves 300 or 500 or 5,000 dead, after all, the homeland is more important than its citizens.

If we choose to ignore the fatality estimates because there are no numbers we can really rely on, the next question is how long the fighting might last. In the most optimistic scenario, Israel dispatches a few jet fighter squadrons to Iran to bomb a handful of nuclear sites and, in turn, sustains such and such fatalities in an Iranian retaliatory attack and that’s the end of it. It’s a matter of a few days.

But what if Iran decides to continue firing missiles at us, bring Hezbollah’s missile arsenal into the conflict and/or paralyze Persian Gulf shipping even after the Israeli fighter planes have returned safely home? Would the Israeli economy be able to sustain the damage? Would the United States continue to stand by Israel’s side after it had been defied?

We’ve know that Israel is unable to wage long wars, even when it has international support. A war of attrition against Iran, even if it doesn’t cause an unbearable loss of life, would require huge amounts of money, inflict major damage on the quality of life and require emergency tax increases. Israel’s citizens have not been shown any forecasts that predict the scope of the damage and losses that they should be expect in such a scenario.

They are being asked to believe not only that the Iranian threat is real but also to count on the government being prepared for any scenario, just as it was in the case of the coronavirus pandemic.

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