JERUSALEM (AP) - An Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear program could trigger a bloody monthlong war on multiple fronts, killing hundreds of Israelis or more, the Israeli Cabinet's civil defense chief warned in an interview published Wednesday.
It was the most explicit assessment yet of how the government sees events unfolding in the aftermath of an Israeli attack.
Matan Vilnai, who is stepping down as the "home front" Cabinet minister to become Israel's ambassador to China, described the scenarios to Israel's Maariv daily at a time of heightened debate about the Iranian nuclear threat.
Vilnai, a retired general who was deputy military chief of staff, has spent the past five years overseeing upgrades of Israel's civil defense systems, including air-raid sirens, bomb shelters and a public alert system.
In the Maariv interview, Vilnai said "the home front is ready as never before." Nonetheless, he said the country must be braced for heavy casualties in the case of conflict with Iran.
Vilnai said the government has prepared for the possibility of hundreds of rockets and missiles falling on Israeli population centers each day, with the expectation of 500 deaths.
"It could be that there will be fewer fatalities, but it could be there will be more. That is the scenario that we are preparing for according to the best experts," he said. "The assessments are for a war that will last 30 days on a number of fronts."
Israel is convinced archenemy Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, dismissing Tehran's claims its nuclear program is for civilian purposes. Israel considers nuclear-armed Iran to be a mortal danger. Iran backs anti-Israel militants with funds and weapons, and its leaders often call for Israel's destruction.
In his latest pronouncement, Iranian Supreme leader Ali Khamenei said Israel will disappear from "the scene of geography." Addressing war veterans in Tehran on Wednesday, he said Iran considers it its "religious duty to save this Islamic country (Palestine) from the clutches of the Zionist occupiers."
Israel's leaders have indicated an attack is a possibility if they conclude the international community has failed to halt the Iranian nuclear program.
Vilnai did not elaborate on how he reached his assessments, but his office relies on intelligence and other assessments about Iranian weapons capabilities and Israeli susceptibility. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has also said the Israeli death toll could be in the range of 500 in such a conflict.