The Institute for National Security Studies held a war game recently in which players representing regional actors simulated the first 48 hours after an IDF strike on the Islamic Republic.
The simulation was based on the scenario of a unilateral Israeli strike without US participation, after midnight on November 9.
The Tel Aviv University-based institute began the game with the following “announcement”: “Al Jazeera reported that Israeli planes attacked nuclear sites in Iran in three assault waves. Following the reports, Israel officially announced it attacked nuclear sites in Iran, since it had no other choice.”
In this scenario, the strike successfully destroyed nuclear sites and set Iran’s nuclear weapons program back by three years.
As part of the exercise, Iran responded with full force, firing some 200 Shihab missiles at Israel in two waves, and calling on its proxies, Hezbollah, Hamas and other radical organizations, to attack Israel. At first, Iran refrained from striking US targets in the Persian Gulf region in the war game.
In the game, Israel, bolstered by a successful strike, attempted to absorb the attacks while trying to de-escalate the situation and reach an end to hostilities as soon as possible.
The international community remained paralyzed due to Russia’s attempts to exploit the situation to advance its strategic interests.
“After two days, the Iranians, and to a lesser extent, their allies, continue to attack Israel. The crisis did not appear to be approaching a solution,” the INSS concluded at the end of the war game.
Within the first 48 hours, Israel carried out a fourth air assault on Iran to complete the destruction of a main nuclear site.
“Israel’s strategic aim was to prevent a regional escalation and to strive to reach a level in which incidents were under control, in low intensity, as quickly as possible,” the INSS said.
Although the US was not notified in advance, Washington clearly sided with Israel and did not expose divisions, in order to show a united front and decrease the chances of a regional conflagration.
The US indicated its willingness to return to the negotiating table with Iran and to ease sanctions in exchange for Iranian restraint and an Iranian announcement that nuclear military activities had ceased.
The US stayed out of the fighting, based on a policy that it would only become involved if Iran were to shut off the globally important oil route of the Strait of Hormuz, or if Iran attacked US assets in the Gulf.
At first, Tehran shied away from a military confrontation with the US, but, the game’s participants found, “The more Iran was pushed into a corner and its options to act became limited, the more it understood that its principal card is to act against the US in the Gulf and to shut off the Strait of Hormuz,” the INSS said.
Iran’s Lebanese Shi’ite proxy Hezbollah found itself in a dilemma in the game. On the one hand, it was under heavy Iranian pressure to fire massive barrages of missiles and rockets at Israel. Tehran told Hezbollah that this was “judgement day” – the very reason Hezbollah had been provided with some 50,000 projectiles.
On the other hand, Hezbollah was deterred by the fear of once more causing widespread damage to Lebanon.
“Therefore, it chose to partially answer Iran’s demands, firing rockets and missiles at military targets in Israel, mainly airports and active defense systems,” the INSS said.
“Israel’s restrained response sharpened Hezbollah’s dilemma and strengthened its decision to fire relatively limited barrages, and to focus on military targets,” it added.
The player representing Hamas also chose a middle path in the game, displaying some commitment to Iran, but seeking to avoid giving Israel a reason to launch a large ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Gulf states and Turkey all acted in their own interests, while distancing themselves from the conflict and looking to prevent a regional escalation.
The game’s participants all acted “very rationally, activating policies that were driven by essential interests only, and ignored internal and outside constraints,” the INSS noted.
The player representing Israel concluded that the Israeli public would be able to absorb an extended conflict, due to the public’s belief that the strike on Iran was justified, and because operational goals were achieved.
The player representing the Islamic Republic found himself with limited tools with which to directly attack Israel, relying heavily on proxies.
Tehran had more tools to take action against US interests in the Gulf and spike oil prices, but realized that the price of involving the US in the fighting would be immensely high.
The INSS said that the game was planned earlier this year, when it seemed that this fall would be a decisive time in resolving the Iranian nuclear question.
“Since then, things have calmed down a little, but after the elections, towards the spring, the question of an attack will resurface. It is therefore vital to continue to examine the possible consequences,” it added.
Within the INSS, there are two competing schools of thought regarding the outcome of an Israeli strike on Iran. The first foresees a major regional war that could develop beyond the area. The second believes that, due to the presence of restraining mechanisms, Iran’s ability to set the Middle East alight is limited.