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Nuclear war between Israel and Iran: lethality beyond the pale

Cham E Dallas1*, William C Bell2, David J Stewart3, Antonio Caruso4 and Frederick M Burkle, Jr5

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Disaster Management, College of Public Health, 001 Barrow Hall, Athens GA 30633, USA

2 Institute for Disaster Management, College of Public Health, 003 Barrow Hall, Athens GA 30633, USA

3 Bartlett & West, 1200 SW Executive Drive, Topeka, KS 66615-3850, USA

4 Institute for Disaster Management, College of Public Health, 007 Barrow Hall, Athens, GA 30633, USA

5 Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington DC Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard University, Cambridge, USA

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Conflict and Health 2013, 7:10  doi:10.1186/1752-1505-7-10

Published: 10 May 2013



The proliferation of nuclear technology in the politically volatile Middle East greatly increases the likelihood of a catastrophic nuclear war. It is widely accepted, while not openly declared, that Israel has nuclear weapons, and that Iran has enriched enough nuclear material to build them. The medical consequences of a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel in the near future are envisioned, with a focus on the distribution of casualties in urban environments.


Model estimates of nuclear war casualties employed ESRI's ArcGIS 9.3, blast and prompt radiation were calculated using the Defense Nuclear Agency's WE program, and fallout radiation was calculated using the Defense Threat Reduction Agency's (DTRA's) Hazard Prediction and Assessment Capability (HPAC) V404SP4, as well as custom GIS and database software applications. Further development for thermal burn casualties was based on Brode, as modified by Binninger, to calculate thermal fluence. ESRI ArcGISTM programs were used to calculate affected populations from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory's LandScanTM 2007 Global Population Dataset for areas affected by thermal, blast and radiation data.


Trauma, thermal burn, and radiation casualties were thus estimated on a geographic basis for three Israeli and eighteen Iranian cities. Nuclear weapon detonations in the densely populated cities of Iran and Israel will result in an unprecedented millions of numbers of dead, with millions of injured suffering without adequate medical care, a broad base of lingering mental health issues, a devastating loss of municipal infrastructure, long-term disruption of economic, educational, and other essential social activity, and a breakdown in law and order.


This will cause a very limited medical response initially for survivors in Iran and Israel. Strategic use of surviving medical response and collaboration with international relief could be expedited by the predicted casualty distributions and locations. The consequences for health management of thermal burn and radiation patients is the worst, as burn patients require enormous resources to treat, and there will be little to no familiarity with the treatment of radiation victims. Any rational analysis of a nuclear war between Iran and Israel reveals the utterly unacceptable outcomes for either nation.

Nuclear war; Mass casualty; Radiation; Thermal burns; Trauma; Iran; Israel