At 7:30 AM local time, 11:00 PM Eastern time, as the last words of the morning call to prayer were fading away in Tehran, its eastern sky lit up like a second sunrise. Rather than use the underground test site they had begun digging a few weeks earlier, the Iranians had detonated an atomic bomb above ground in the Kavir National Park. It’s yield was estimated to be about 50 kilotons, a little more than twice as powerful as the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki. The fireball and mushroom cloud were easily visible from Tehran and most of northern Iran. The political and religious leadership of Iran immediately went on the radio, television, and proclaimed that the Islamic Republic was now an atomic power, extolled the virtue and righteousness of their cause, and basically dared the rest of the world to do something about it.
They also proclaimed that the campaign to liberate Palestine had also begun. What that meant was that all of the remaining SCUD and SS-21 units in Syria pointed their launchers at Israel and fired, pretty much at the same time. Hamas also let loose with a steady barrage of Qasam rockets out of Gaza, which were dealt with by the Iron Dome system that premiered in the fall of 2012. Unfortunately for the Israelis, attempts to attack the Iron Dome installations directly were partially successful. One was knocked out for three days by a series of truck bombs, while two were damaged by infiltrators who got close enough to cause casualties. Iran also fired off a volley or two of long-range missiles that for the most part either landed in unused land or were shot down in the air. I’m not saying that Israel didn’t take casualties. A few of the missiles that got through to populated areas had chemical warheads, which wreaked havoc among the neighborhoods of Nazareth and Haifa. Gas masks don’t do much when a nerve agent is absorbed through the skin, and no government on earth can provide chemical warfare suits and training on how to use them to all of its citizens.
The Israeli Air Force took some lumps when they launched retaliatory air strikes, especially at first. Their initial targets were anti-aircraft units, which is never a safe game. Once the Syrian air force and anti-air forces were pretty much dead or burning, Israel unleashed hell upon the Assad regime. First targets were the rocket and missile launchers in Syria and Gaza that were still lobbing volleys at Israel, followed by a several days of pretty much around the clock bombing of Hamas and what was left of Assad’s government. Egypt started making some rumblings at first, but when the Muslim Brotherhood was told by the Egyptian military that they didn’t want a piece of this fight, the most they did was threaten to shut down the Suez Canal if the Israelis weren’t called off by Washington. That went nowhere. There’s nothing like having an aircraft carrier take up station at either end of the canal to change an Egyptian’s mind.
At the time, I was surprised that Israel didn’t go nuclear on at least Syria. Assad crossed the line when he gassed civilians, so why not pull out all the stops? My guess is that Tel Aviv figured they could do OK with conventional weapons, and wanted to keep what they had in case Iran had more than one nuke up their sleeve.
Like I said, Iran launched a few missiles at Israel, but most of their attention was spent trying to hit American forces in the region. Missiles were launched at bases in Iraq, the UAE, and Kuwait. Most of them got through, but our forces were already on alert because of the attacks at home, so casualties were light. Most of the damage was to empty buildings, although the loss of fuel farms at the big air base in Iraq put a dent in our capacity to strike back for weeks. Luckily for both sides, the Iranians didn’t use chemical weapons in these attacks. Use of suicide bombers to try to inflict further damage were wholly unsuccessful. Like I said, the troops were on alert, so at the places where truck bombs or guys in suicide vests tried to hit them, they were immediately turned into unsuccessful martyrs.
Iran was only in that part of the fight for about a day before American air forces knocked their offensive capability off-line. We didn’t use nukes against them, but the damage was pretty bad. Natanz was hit with a several waves of cruise missiles, while known launch sites for missiles and anti-air assets were hit by aircraft staged out of Iraq and carriers in the Persian Gulf. Once the airspace was clear, heavy bombers were sent in with bunker buster bombs to seal off command sites and known underground nuclear research and production facilities. After a few days of airstrikes, that front pretty much went quiet. We would have done more, but our attention was focused elsewhere.