Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Ayatollah for a Day (more Israel/Iran simulation)

I missed it when it first came out (largely because I was locked away in a SCIF that day discussing things Middle Eastern), but Karim Sajadpour had a piece in Foreign Policy magazine earlier this month discussing his role as a (simulated) Ayatollah Khamenei during the Brookings Institution’s 2009 crisis game examining a possible Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities:

Although the precise strategy Israel would employ to carry out such an operation is debatable, its objective — to avert a nuclear-armed Tehran — is crystal clear. What’s less clear is how Tehran would react and with what aim. Would the Iranian regime be strengthened or weakened internally? Would it respond with fury or restraint?

To probe these questions, the Brookings Institution in late 2009 assembled two dozen former senior U.S. government officials and Middle East specialists for a daylong simulation of the political and military consequences that would result from an Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear program.

The simulation was conducted as a three-move game, with Israeli, U.S., and Iranian teams, each representing their government’s top national security officials. The members of the U.S. team had all served in senior positions in the U.S. government; the Israeli team was composed of a half-dozen experts on Israel, including former senior U.S. officials with close ties to senior Israeli decision-makers; the Iranian team was composed of a half-dozen specialists, including people who had either lived in Tehran or served as U.S. officials with responsibility for Iran.

I had the unenviable task of trying to channel Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The simulation was premised on a surprise Israeli military strike — absent U.S. knowledge or consent — on Iran’s nuclear facilities, motivated by the breakdown of nuclear negotiations, the ineffectiveness of sanctions, and newfound intelligence of secret Iranian weapons activity. In other words, pretty close to what we have before us now.

We’ve covered other reports on the game in the past, and had some doubts as to how realistic the military scenario was. At the risk of quibbling, Sadjadpour’s account only further contributes to those doubts when it notes that the Iranian side in the wargame “unleashed Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad to fire rockets at Israeli population centers.” While PIJ is certainly subject to very heavy Iranian influence, and Hizbullah might fire rockets in such as case (although perhaps not, since the political cost would be very high), Iran has no substantial operational influence over Hamas at all. Someone in the room ought to have known that.

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