U.S. War Game Sees Perils of Israeli Strike Against Iran (NY) TIMES) By MARK MAZZETTI and THOM SHANKER WASHINGTON 03/20/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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WASHINGTON — A classified war simulation held this month to assess
the repercussions of an Israeli attack on Iran forecasts that the
strike would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the
United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead, according to
The officials said the so-called war game was not designed as a
rehearsal for American military action — and they emphasized that the
exercise’s results were not the only possible outcome of a real-world
But the game has raised fears among top American planners that it may
be impossible to preclude American involvement in any escalating
confrontation with Iran, the officials said. In the debate among
policy makers over the consequences of any Israeli attack, that
reaction may give stronger voice to those in the White House,
Pentagon and intelligence community who have warned that a strike
could prove perilous for the United States.
The results of the war game were particularly troubling to Gen. James
N. Mattis, who commands all American forces in the Middle East,
Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, according to officials who either
participated in the Central Command exercise or who were briefed on
the results and spoke on condition of anonymity because of its
classified nature. When the exercise had concluded earlier this
month, according to the officials, General Mattis told aides that an
Israeli first strike would be likely to have dire consequences across
the region and for United States forces there.
The two-week war game, called Internal Look, played out a narrative
in which the United States found it was pulled into the conflict
after Iranian missiles struck a Navy warship in the Persian Gulf,
killing about 200 Americans, according to officials with knowledge of
the exercise. The United States then retaliated by carrying out its
own strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.
The initial Israeli attack was assessed to have set back the Iranian
nuclear program by roughly a year, and the subsequent American
strikes did not slow the Iranian nuclear program by more than an
additional two years. However, other Pentagon planners have said that
America’s arsenal of long-range bombers, refueling aircraft and
precision missiles could do far more damage to the Iranian nuclear
program — if President Obama were to decide on a full-scale
The exercise was designed specifically to test internal military
communications and coordination among battle staffs in the Pentagon,
Tampa, Fla., where the headquarters of the Central Command is
located, and in the Persian Gulf in the aftermath of an Israeli
strike. But the exercise was written to assess a pressing, potential,
In the end, the war game reinforced to military officials the
unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of a strike by Israel, and a
counterstrike by Iran, the officials said.
American and Israeli intelligence services broadly agree on the
progress Iran has made to enrich uranium. But they disagree on how
much time there would be to prevent Iran from building a weapon if
leaders in Tehran decided to go ahead with one.
With the Israelis saying publicly that the window to prevent Iran
from building a nuclear bomb is closing, American officials see an
Israeli attack on Iran within the next year as a possibility. They
have said privately that they believe that Israel would probably give
the United States little or no warning should Israeli officials make
the decision to strike Iranian nuclear sites.
Officials said that, under the chain of events in the war game, Iran
believed that Israel and the United States were partners in any
strike against Iranian nuclear sites and therefore considered
American military forces in the Persian Gulf as complicit in the
attack. Iranian jets chased Israeli warplanes after the attack, and
Iranians launched missiles at an American warship in the Persian
Gulf, viewed as an act of war that allowed an American retaliation.
Internal Look has long been one of Central Command’s most significant
planning exercises, and is carried out about twice a year to assess
how the headquarters, its staff and command posts in the region would
respond to various real-world situations.
Over the years, it has been used to prepare for various wars in the
Middle East. According to the defense Web site GlobalSecurity.org,
military planners during the cold war used Internal Look to prepare
for a move by the Soviet Union to seize Iranian oil fields. The
American war plan at the time called for the Pentagon to march nearly
six Army divisions north from the Persian Gulf to the Zagros
Mountains of Iran to blunt a Soviet attack.
In December 2002, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who was the top officer at
Central Command, used Internal Look to test the readiness of his
units for the coming invasion of Iraq.
Many experts have predicted that Iran would try to carefully manage
the escalation after an Israeli first strike in order to avoid giving
the United States a rationale for attacking with its far superior
forces. Thus, it might use proxies to set off car bombs in world
capitals or funnel high explosives to insurgents in Afghanistan to
attack American and NATO troops.
While using surrogates might, in the end, not be enough to hide
Iran’s instigation of these attacks, the government in Tehran could
at least publicly deny all responsibility.
Some military specialists in the United States and in Israel who have
assessed the potential ramifications of an Israeli attack believe
that the last thing Iran would want is a full-scale war on its
territory. Thus, they argue that Iran would not directly strike
American military targets, whether warships in the Persian Gulf or
bases in the region.
Their analysis, however, also includes the broad caveat that it is
impossible to know the internal thinking of the senior Iranian
leadership, and is informed by the awareness that even the most
detailed war games cannot predict how nations and their leaders will
react in the heat of conflict.
Yet these specialists continue their work, saying that any insight on
how the Iranians will react to an attack will help determine whether
the Israelis carry out a strike — and what the American position will
be if they do.
Israeli intelligence estimates, backed by academic studies, have cast
doubt on the widespread assumption that a military strike on Iranian
nuclear facilities would set off a catastrophic set of events like a
regional conflagration, widespread acts of terrorism and sky-high oil
“A war is no picnic,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio
in November. But if Israel feels itself forced into action, the
retaliation would be bearable, he said. “There will not be 100,000
dead or 10,000 dead or 1,000 dead. The state of Israel will not be
destroyed.” (Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company 03/20/12)
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