November 13, 2011


Ayatollah for a Day: I war-gamed an Israeli strike on Iran -- and it got ugly. (KARIM SADJADPOUR, NOVEMBER 10, 2011, Foreign Policy)

Iran's nuclear sites are purposely built close to population centers, but in the simulation, the Israeli strike managed to cause only a small number of civilian casualties. Nonetheless, one of my immediate reactions was to order Iranian state television to show graphic images of the "hundreds of innocent martyrs" -- focusing on the women and children -- in order to incite outrage against Israel and attempt to convert Iranian nationalism into solidarity with the regime.

To further that goal, we then invited the symbolic leadership of the opposition -- Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi (both of whom are now under house arrest), as well as former President Mohammad Khatami -- onto state television to furiously condemn Israel and pledge allegiance to the government. Instead of widening Iran's deep internal fractures -- both between political elites and between the people and the regime -- the Israeli military strike helped repair them.

I asked a longtime aide to Karroubi about the plausibility of the above scenario. He said that an Israeli strike on Iran would be "10 times worse" -- in terms of eliciting popular anger -- than a U.S. strike and agreed that it would likely bring recognized opposition figures in concert with the government, strengthening the state's capacity to respond.

And respond we did. I went into the exercise believing that the Iranian regime's response to an Israeli military strike -- despite many predictions otherwise -- would be relatively subdued, given the regime's fears of inviting massive reprisals. The opposite turned out to be true. Once our nuclear sites were effectively destroyed, we calculated that we had no choice but to escalate and retaliate in order to save face and project power to our own population and neighbors, deter future attacks, and inflict a heavy political cost on Israel.

Perhaps implicitly, the experience of Israel's September 2007 bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor was instructive. Aside from a feeble official complaint to the United Nations about Israel's "breach of Syrian airspace," there was virtually no reaction from Damascus. As a result, the Israeli attack was met with little international or even Arab condemnation.

We needed to respond in a way that would further enflame the regional security environment, negatively impact the global economy, and make reverberations felt throughout the world. So we played dirty.

One of our first salvos was to launch missiles at oil installations in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, as well as stir unrest among Saudi Shiites against their government. Our pretext was that Israel had used Saudi airspace to attack us, though we later found out it did so without Saudi permission. Given Iran's less-than-accurate missile technology, most missiles missed their mark, but some struck home and we succeeded in spiking oil prices enough so that Americans and Europeans filling their cars with gasoline might be irritated by Israel's actions.

We also fired missiles at Israeli military and nuclear targets and unleashed Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad to fire rockets at Israeli population centers. Although few of these missiles reached their targets, the goal was create an atmosphere of terror among Israeli society so its government would think twice about future attacks.

We didn't limit our reaction to just the Middle East. Via proxy, we hit European civilian and military outposts in Afghanistan and Iraq, confident that if past is precedent, Europe would take the high road and not retaliate. We also activated terrorist cells in Europe -- bombing public transportation and killing several civilians -- in the belief that European citizens and governments would likely come down hard on Israel for destabilizing the region.

But, appreciating the logic of power, we stopped just short of provoking the United States.

In other words, Iran is incapable of meaningful reaction, other than against its own people. 

Posted by at November 13, 2011 7:30 AM

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