Iran Drumbeat: Let's Hear From Col. Gardiner


Back in 2004, when the idea of preemptive strikes on Iran was getting attention, the Atlantic conducted a "war game" to explore the feasibility of such an enterprise. To run the exercise, we turned to Sam Gardiner (right), a retired Air Force colonel who had specialized in war-gaming at the National War College and elsewhere. You can read the results here. Taking part in this analysis is part of the reason I have been so down on the whole bomb-Iran concept ever since.

So what does Col. Gardiner think about the current Iran drumbeats? An intrepid reader suggested that I ask him; I did; and he replied. It turned out that he had just finished sending a friend answers to a similar set of questions, thus:

- How likely is an Israeli attack on Iran this year, from 1 (low) to 10 (high)?

Would give it a "4" now [after the AIPAC sessions and the Netanyahu visit].  I sense Israel has achieved its objective.

The President has publicly committed to not allowing Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.  He has announced he will use a strike to prevent that from happening.  He said he will not adopt containment as a strategy for dealing with a weapon.

And, Syria has taken on new importance.  The stakes have changed.

I would say Israel has climbed down from its hair on fire position.

- If Israel attacked, how broad will Iran's response likely to be?

Iran has said it would not separate the United States and Israel in its retaliation.  But, I have made an argument that Iran might decide to go slowly. I have written a paper on Iranian options for response....

On the other hand, I don't believe it possible for the US not to be pulled into finishing the job even if Iran does not choose to respond immediately.  I've also written a paper on the logic.

The two papers Gardiner mentions are long but certainly worth examination. In a sense -- and I mean this as a compliment -- both of them, especially the second, are extensions and updatings of the exercise Gardiner carried out for us so long ago. They are also sobering, regardless of your view on the bomb-Iran frenzy. Samples from the summary of the second paper:

The [Iran-Israel] situation has a quality of inevitability about it. It has the feel of Europe prior to World War I. The United States moves forward with a vague notion of containment, failing to recognize that containment as a strategy has not curbed and in all probability will not curb Iranian influence in the Middle East. Containment will certainly not stop Iran's nuclear program, and it will not eliminate Israel's security concerns.

Iran moves forward with its nuclear program seeing it as a component of its status as an important power but failing to recognize that the ultimate product could be a great loss of influence. Israel moves forward with its exaggerated view of the threat from Iran, failing to recognize that the cost to be paid because of this view may be more of a threat to Israel's security interests than Iran is....

If Iran responds [to an Israeli strike] even in a very limited way, as it has threatened, Israel can pull the United States into finishing the job on the Iranian nuclear sites and destroying Iranian military capabilities. Europe would be pulled into the fight....

Although there are some leverage points for the United States on Israel to prevent Israel from striking Iran, they are limited.

Iran is the only country with the leverage to prevent the seemingly inevitable movement towards disaster for itself, for the region, for Europeans and for the United States.

Not encouraging reports, but valuable ones; worth reading.