The threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon would force Israel to agree to a measured response and diplomacy in the wake of a long-range missile attack in Tel Aviv, and prevent Israel from unleashing a disproportionate response, according to the conclusions of a simulation at the IDC, Herzliya, on Sunday.
With Iran’s nuclear program on a path that would see the Islamic Republic achieving nuclear capabilities in the coming years, the simulation was meant to gauge how such a game-changing event would be met by regional and world players.
Titled “Iran – The Day After,” the simulation was based on a similar exercise held last December at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, which ended with Russia and China backing Iran as a sharp rift developed between Washington and Israel. On Sunday at the IDC, organizers hoped for a more promising result.
The simulation contained two rounds. In the first round, the participants, who included a wide range of Israel’s leading experts and academics, were required to devise a response from their team to Iran’s nuclear capabilities. This was be followed by a “trigger” event that was kept secret from the participants beforehand. The next stage dealt with the advancement of the event following the trigger, and so on in the following stages.
The teams represented 20 nation-states, international bodies, or terror organizations in which the experts and academics specialize. In the first round of the exercise, the teams were told that shortly after the announcement that Iran had gone nuclear, Hizbullah had launched long-range missiles at Tel Aviv, striking the Defense Ministry and causing large-scale casualties and destruction.
In response to the imagined missile strike, “US President Barack Obama” – played by US team member and former ambassador to Israel and Egypt Daniel C. Kurtzer – said, “We condemn Iran’s behavior and have expressed our unequivocal support for Israel’s right to defend itself.”
Kurtzer as Obama added that following such an attack on the heart of Israel’s defense establishment, the US would provide open-ended military assistance, “essentially an open checkbook,” as well as US personnel on the ground.
However, “Obama” added that the US “does not support the Israeli view that the attack on the Ministry of Defense indicates the beginning of an all-out war,” adding that Washington hoped Israel did not “carry out a disproportionate response.”
Things advanced at a swift pace, as the teams were repeatedly given new advancements in the simulation. Following the scenario in which Hizbullah struck the Defense Ministry, Israel wanted to launch a disproportionate response, actions that would lead to an all-out war, as the US tried to rein in Israeli leaders and supported international community efforts to pass crippling sanctions against Iran.
Former Israeli ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval led the Israeli team as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the wake of the deadly attack on Tel Aviv.
“This would be a very serious act of war with serious losses of life and would be seen this way by the public. As prime minister, I would call for the opposition to join an emergency coalition government and hold a conversation with the president of the US... We would expect the states to make clear decisions in regard to the umbrella defense for us and for the point of additional attacks.”
“Netanyahu” added that Israel would wait to coordinate a response with the United States.
The Iranian team, headed by former Military Intelligence chief Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash, said that as the region flared up, they would seek to protect their allies in Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas, and would call for the end of the Gaza blockade and violations of Lebanon’s airspace. Iran would also lean on allies like Venezuela for support.
Ze’evi-Farkash added that the Iranian team saw its nuclear weapon as a peaceful device meant to “readjust the balance of power in the region” and “protect Muslim lands.”
With the first stage out of the way, and repairs under way at the Defense Ministry in downtown Tel Aviv, sources revealed that Iran had passed radioactive materials to Hizbullah, leading Israeli authorities to fear the deployment of a “dirty bomb.” Next, the imaginary UN Security Council passed a resolution giving Lebanon 48 hours to disarm Hizbullah and return the radioactive materials, a demand that Lebanon said would take the support of the international community to carry out.
According to the findings of the simulation, such a situation would lead the US to form a multinational force, a “coalition of the willing,” to enter Lebanon and dismantle Hizbullah by force.
The overarching conclusions of the simulation were that a nuclear weapon would dramatically increase Iranian deterrence against a massive Israeli counterattack, as long as the means used by Iran were themselves conventional. In other words, that Israel, faced with the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon, would be forced to concede to a more measured response and a diplomatic approach if Tel Aviv were hit by long-range missiles. That said, when the threat became a weapon of mass destruction, such as a dirty bomb, the threat would be severe enough for the world to take large-scale measures to forcibly remove it.
The simulation was dominated by the US and Israeli teams, and seemed to almost completely ignore non-Western superpowers like China and Russia. Neither of these two game-changers’ teams was consulted at length, as opposed to the US team, whose Kurtzer-Obama seemed almost to MC the simulation.
The snub was not lost on China team leader Prof. Avrum Ehrlich, who said that “30 years of Chinese involvement in Iran and the fact that China represents some 20 percent of the Iranian economy has massive influence. Their influence over Iran dwarfs that of the US.”
Ehrlich said that the US-centric tone showed an Israeli refusal to see the rising power of China as opposed to the declining influence of the US and growing tensions in the “special relationship” between the US and Israel.
“This won’t continue forever. It will keep going until the US cuts
support,” Ehrlich said, adding that China “could do what the US has
tried to do in regard to Iran for decades, but Israel isn’t listening.”
Regardless of which states should take the reins in a time of emergency
or what findings the simulation turned up, Kurtzer said the entire
exercise was based on an abject failure from the beginning.
“If you start the premise on the day after Iran gets a nuclear weapon, then you’re assuming that both the United States and Israel have failed. The day after Iran announces nuclear weapons capability, the game has change dramatically and real life changes and the options we have today change fundamentally,” Kurtzer said.