Israel’s retaliation followed within an hour. Ballistic missiles launched from Israel, and from diesel submarines; airstrikes with nuclear bombs arrived two hours later; the main targets were Iranian military assets that could still target Israel, but an exemplary component of the nuclear strike put megaton bombs over Tehran and other large cities, including Qom, the religious capital of the Iranian ayatollahs. Tehran, which sits in a valley, experienced multiple blast shockwave reverberations, turning the city into a veritable charnel house. Most of the 50 million Iranians living in urban areas were exposed to the elemental fury of megaton-yield thermonuclear bombs, generated by an initial temperature of 10 million degrees centigrade, as hot as the interior of the Sun. Within 10 seconds a mile-wide fireball pushed supersonic shockwaves out to three miles, and after 50 seconds out to 12 miles, with the fireball four miles above ground zero. To a radius of four miles — 50 square miles — the destruction was nearly total, with third-degree burns common within that radius. In all, 20 million Iranians died within 30 days, with another 15 million injured.
But Iran’s leaders, safely hidden in shelters buried deep in the mountains, survived, though communications were largely shut down by a one-megaton high-altitude air-burst that sent serial lethal jolts of electromagnetic pulses (EMP) to fry Iran’s infrastructure electronics. Delegated launch authority in case of nuclear attack, several Iranian missile commanders launched A-bombs at the great Saudi oil port of Ras Tanura, obliterating the world’s largest crude oil port, through which 10 percent of global oil consumption passes. Several commanders launched atomic weapons at Riyadh, devastating the Saudi leadership.
Meanwhile, the media converged on Israel, overwhelming security forces. Horrific pictures of the devastation were broadcast round the clock, and posted on the Internet. Islamist mobs exulted publicly all over the globe. U.S., Israeli, and other Western embassies were assailed in Arab capitals, in several Pakistani cities, in Kabul, and in several Latin American countries as well. Local security forces stood by as Western diplomats were murdered. From southern Lebanon, Iran’s top terror proxy, Hezbollah, launched 20,000 rockets into northern Israel in the first week. In Gaza, 5,000 rockets smuggled in with help from Egypt’s Islamist government were launched into central and southern Israel. The barrages overwhelmed Israel’s world-best missile defense shield.
Sporadic Israeli airstrikes were launched into southern Lebanon targeting Hezbollah redoubts, and into Gaza. It was unclear who was running Israel’s government, as most communications were down all over the country. With Iran already laid waste, a bewildered United States stood aloof, trying to sort out events in the war-torn region. U.S. intelligence agencies expressed shock that Iran had clandestinely developed and stockpiled a small arsenal of nuclear warheads of sufficiently advanced design to fit inside the nose cone of its ballistic missiles, a development they had thought a year or two away.
Egypt went on full military alert, but took no immediate action. In Iraq, the ruling Shi’a faction faced a sudden Sunni insurgency, which had been gathering steam since U.S. troops exited Iraq. The Kurds, seeing opportunity amid chaos, declared a separate Kurdish republic in the north, uniting with their brethren who broke from war-torn Syria. Iranian Kurds declared their independence, separating from what was now a pariah state. Turkey faced a revolt among its own Kurdish population, as Mideast Kurds saw a chance to gain the nation-state denied them by the colonial powers a century earlier.