The Looming US-Israel Split

That's the likeliest consequence of the current awful choices the West has with respect to Iran's nuclear weapon capacity. In a diplomatic war-game at Harvard, various experienced officials tried to game out future negotiations, sanctions and alliances. Iran's revolutionary guard junta, which now runs almost all the country's key institutions, wins every time. Broad sanctions won't work; specific sanctions bring Russia and China again to Iran's defense; and in the end, the US comes to the obvious conclusion that, absent launching a war we can neither afford nor accomplish, the best strategy is containment of an Iran with nuclear latency or even a few nuclear bombs. This is certainly no riskier a strategy with respect to America's vital interests than letting Pakistan have a nuke. But it leaves an obvious problem: Israel. David Ignatius:

The trickiest problem for our imaginary Obama was his relationship with the fictive Netanyahu. As Burns and Gold played these roles, they had two sharp exchanges in which America asked for assurances that Israel wouldn’t attack Iran without U.S. permission. The Israeli prime minister, as played by Gold, refused to make that pledge, insisting that Israel alone must decide how to protect its security. Whereupon Burns’s president warned that if Israel did strike, contrary to U.S. interests, Washington might publicly denounce the attack producing an open break as in the 1956 Suez crisis. The two key players agreed later that the simulation highlighted real tensions that the two countries need to understand better.

One reason I have been focusing on Israel lately is because I can see this conflict coming and do not believe it can be contained or managed without a more open and honest public dialogue than the cramped and emotional one that occurs in Washington. The truth is: Israel and the US have very different interests with respect to Iran, and if Israel launches a war on Iran, against US wishes, then the alliance will never be the same.

Gary Sick, who played the Iranian regime in the game, had the following to say on his blog:

This game provided an opportunity for me to test my understanding of the dynamics propelling each side in the Iran debate. And the result, I am sorry to say, was even more depressing than I would have imagined.

The fact that it was seasoned veterans of the policy process playing these roles makes it even more significant. The lesson was not so much that Iran could “win” this game so easily; it was that the US and its allies were unable even to imagine any alternatives.

The game was structured to inject maximum “reality” into the scenario: the real world as it existed on the day we started, real professionals with real experience playing the roles of real governments, total freedom of action, and an open-ended scenario.

Under those circumstances, the outcome was simply depressing!