The Burning of Tel Aviv: What a Nuclear Attack Would Look Like

According to expert Dr. Moti Ofek, a nuclear attack on Tel Aviv would result in tens of thousands of deaths, and widespread destruction.

Contact Editor
Yaakov Levi,

Ayalon traffic snarl.
Ayalon traffic snarl.
Israel news photo: Flash 90

What would a nuclear attack on Tel Aviv look like? According to a model presented by Dr. Moti Ofek, such an attack would likely come “out of the blue,” on a sunny weekday afternoon, with the Ayalon Freeway packed with cars – and result in tens of thousands of deaths.

Ofek presented the morbid forecast at a special seminar in Tel Aviv last week, which discussed what the next war would look like. Ofek, who served in IDF Military Intelligence and the Mossad, is an expert on nuclear warfare.

Ofek was countering a claim by a previous speaker, Dr. Yehoshua Sokol, who presented a study by US and British experts drawn up in the 1950s that claims that with preparation, it would be possible to limit deaths to no more than 1,500 people. The study, although over 50 years old, would be relevant to the type of weapon Iran would be likely to be able develop, said Sokol.

Ofek said that new US studies that have not been revealed to the public paint a much more dire picture. According to those reports, a 20 kiloton nuclear device would kill 75,000 people immediately, while two 15 kiloton weapons would kill as many as 115,000 people. The bomb dropped by US forces on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, had a effective yield of 20 kilotons of explosives. That bomb, figures released later showed, killed 66,000 people as a direct result of the last, injuring an additional 69,000 others.

In some ways, however, the nuclear nightmare would be with Tel Aviv for many years to come. Besides the destruction from the bomb itself, most of Tel Aviv would likely burn, because the gas in the tanks of the many cars on the city streets would ignite. The city's many tall buildings would likely collapse, killing or severely injuring those in them and on the streets.

In addition, the EMP – electro-magnetic pulse – effect of the blast would destroy the electronic components of computers and defense systems within a 30 kilometer radius of ground zero. While the IDF is said to have technologies to defend its crucial electronic components from EMP damage, the blast would destroy communication systems, cellphone and landline phone connections, and much more.

Iran, said Ofek, already had the ability to cause Israel that kind of destruction. Only two things were preventing it from doing so – the Western sanctions, and the fear of an Israeli “second strike,” which would cause millions of Iranian deaths.