The war began as planned. The Israeli pilots took off well before dawn and streaked across Lebanon and northern Iraq, high above Kirkuk. Flying US-made F-15 and F-16s, the Israelis separated over the mountains of western Iran, the pilots gesturing a last minute show of confidence in their mission, maintaining radio silence.
Just before the sun rose over Tehran, moments before the Muslim call to prayer, the missiles struck their targets. While US Air Force AWACS planes circled overhead--listening, watching, recording--heavy US bombers followed minutes later. Bunker-busters and mini-nukes fell on dozens of targets while Iranian anti-aircraft missiles sped skyward.
The ironically named Bushehr nuclear power plant crumbled to dust. Russian technicians and foreign nationals scurried for safety. Most did not make it.
Targets in Saghand and Yazd, all of them carefully chosen many months before by Pentagon planners, were destroyed. The uranium enrichment facility in Natanz; a heavy water plant and radioisotope facility in Arak; the Ardekan Nuclear Fuel Unit; the Uranium Conversion Facility and Nuclear Technology Center in Isfahan; were struck simultaneously by USAF and Israeli bomber groups.
The Tehran Nuclear Research Center, the Tehran Molybdenum, Iodine and Xenon Radioisotope Production Facility, the Tehran Jabr Ibn Hayan Multipurpose Laboratories, the Kalaye Electric Company in the Tehran suburbs were destroyed.
Iranian fighter jets rose in scattered groups. At least those Iranian fighter planes that had not been destroyed on the ground by swift and systematic air strikes from US and Israeli missiles. A few Iranian fighters even launched missiles, downing the occasional attacker, but American top guns quickly prevailed in the ensuing dogfights.
The Iranian air force, like the Iranian navy, never really knew what hit them. Like the slumbering US sailors at Pearl Harbor, the pre-dawn, pre-emptive attack wiped out fully half the Iranian defense forces in a matter of hours.
By mid-morning, the second and third wave of US/Israeli raiders screamed over the secondary targets. The only problem now, the surprising effectiveness of the Iranian missile defenses. The element of surprise lost, US and Israeli warplanes began to fall from the skies in considerable numbers to anti-aircraft fire.
At 7:35 AM, Tehran time, the first Iranian anti-ship missile destroyed a Panamanian oil tanker, departing from Kuwait and bound for Houston. Launched from an Iranian fighter plane, the Exocet split the ship in half and set the ship ablaze in the Strait of Hormuz. A second and third tanker followed, black smoke billowing from the broken ships before they blew up and sank. By 8:15 AM, all ship traffic on the Persian Gulf had ceased.
US Navy ships, ordered earlier into the relative safety of the Indian Ocean, south of their base in Bahrain, launched counter strikes. Waves of US fighter planes circled the burning wrecks in the bottleneck of Hormuz but the Iranian fighters had fled.
At 9 AM, Eastern Standard Time, many hours into the war, CNN reported a squadron of suicide Iranian fighter jets attacking the US Navy fleet south of Bahrain. Embedded reporters aboard the ships--sending live feeds directly to a rapt audience of Americans just awakening--reported all of the Iranian jets destroyed, but not before the enemy planes launched dozens of Exocet and Sunburn anti-ship missiles. A US aircraft carrier, cruiser and two destroyers suffered direct hits. The cruiser blew up and sank, killing 600 men. The aircraft carrier sank an hour later.
By mid-morning, every military base in Iran was partially or wholly destroyed. Sirens blared and fires blazed from hundreds of fires. Explosions rocked Tehran and the electrical power failed. The Al Jazeerah news station in Tehran took a direct hit from a satellite bomb, leveling the entire block.
At 9:15 AM, Baghdad time, the first Iranian missile struck the Green Zone. For the next thirty minutes a torrent of missiles landed on GPS coordinates carefully selected by Shiite militiamen with cell phones positioned outside the Green Zone and other permanent US bases. Although US and Israeli bomber pilots had destroyed 90% of the Iranian missiles, enough Shahabs remained to fully destroy the Green Zone, the Baghdad airport, and a US Marine base. Thousands of unsuspecting US soldiers died in the early morning barrage. Not surprisingly, CNN and Fox withheld the great number of casualties from American viewers.
By 9:30 AM, gas stations on the US east coast began to raise their prices. Slowly at first and then altogether in a panic, the prices rose. $4 a gallon, and then $5 and then $6, the prices skyrocketed. Worried motorists, rushing from work, roared into the nearest gas station, radios blaring the latest reports of the pre-emptive attack on Iran. While fistfights broke out in gas stations everywhere, the third Middle Eastern war had begun.
In Washington DC, the spin began minutes after the first missile struck its intended target. The punitive strike--not really a war said the harried White House spokesman--would further democracy and peace in the Middle East. Media pundits mostly followed the party line. By ridding Iran of weapons of mass destruction, Donald Rumsfeld declared confidently on CNN, Iran might follow in the footsteps of Iraq, and enjoy the hard won fruits of freedom.
The president scheduled a speech at 2 PM. Gas prices rose another two dollars before then. China and Japan threatened to dump US dollars. Gold rose $120 an ounce. The dollar plummeted against the Euro.
CNN reported violent, anti-American protests in Paris, London, Rome, Berlin and Dublin. Fast food franchises throughout Europe, carrying American corporate logos, were firebombed.
A violent coup toppled the pro-American Pakistan president. On the New York Stock Exchange, prices fell in a frenzy of trading--except for the major petroleum producers. A single, Iranian Shahab missile struck Tel Aviv, destroying an entire city block. Israel vowed revenge, and threatened a nuclear strike on Tehran, before a hastily called UN General Assembly in New York City eased tensions.
An orange alert in New York City suddenly reddened to a full-scale terror alarm when a package detonated on a Manhattan subway. Mayor Bloomberg declared martial law. Governor Pataki ordered the New York National Guard fully mobilized, mobilizing what few national guardsmen remained in the state.
President Bush looked shaken at 2 PM. The scroll below the TV screen reported Persian Gulf nations halting production of oil until the conflict could be resolved peacefully. Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, announced a freeze in oil deliveries to the US would begin immediately. Tony Blair offered to mediate peace negotiations, between the US and Israel and Iran, but was resoundingly rejected.
By 6 PM, Eastern Standard Time, gas prices had stabilized at just below $10 a gallon. A Citgo station in Texas, near Fort Sam Houston Army base, was firebombed. No one claimed responsibility. Terrorism was not ruled out.
At sunset, the call to prayer--in Tehran, Baghdad, Islamabad, Ankara, Jerusalem, Jakarta, Riyadh--sounded uncannily like the buzzing of enraged bees.