Wargaming An Attack On Iran

Karim Sadjapour writes about a wargaming scenario he recently participated in with a group of former U.S. officials and experts on Israel and Iran to try to play out how an Israeli strike on Iran might go. Sadjapour was on the Iranian team and, as he relates, it didn’t turn out well for anyone:

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.

(…)

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.

The whole piece is worth reading as a glimpse into how experts think the various actors would respond in this kind of situation.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Quick Takes, Terrorism, World Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed for too young in July 2021.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is no such thing as limited war against Iran. Not only do you need to eliminate its nuclear capability (whatever and whereever that is), you’ve got to prevent it from striking back.

  2. Rob in CT says:

    Step back for a minute and think about the fact that it is entirely normal and acceptable in American discourse to discuss pre-emptive war against Iran. Yeah, let’s “game out” a war with Iran and publish our results. Isn’t it neat? What can we learn?

    HOLY SHIT.

  3. @Rob in CT:

    Wargaming has been part of military planning, and academic analysis of the same, for a century or more.

    Don’t you think there’s value in sitting down and thinking about these issues ahead of time?

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    Pre-emptive war may be moral. Preventive war is not.

  5. MM says:

    @Rob in CT: War gaming isn’t the issue. I would expect the that US Military has fairly up to date plans for most major potential conflicts, and they need to update those plans frequently. The frightening part is not only, that pre-emptive war is discussed by ostensibly rational people as a solution, but that nearly any other strategy, is considered to be weak in the eyes of so many pundits.

  6. arash says:

    Khomeini and Khamenei and other leaders of the terrorist regime are extremely timid and, for instance, Khomeini was so frightened of the Shah’s power (nothing compared to the US and Western nations’ power) that he used to call the Shah “Shadow of God”.

    The terrorist Khamenei’s envoy’s empty bluster reminds me of the Persian saying about the frightened man walking through a grave yard at night who was whistling to comfort himself.

    Western governments have gone out of their way to find accommodation with the regime who in response has resorted to the murder of thousands of British, American and other nationals through proxy terrorist groupuscules in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere and speeding up of its military nuclear efforts. This diplomatic approach has failed drastically and now the best way forward is two-pronged. First, stifling oil, gas and petroleum boycott of the regime; and second, the co-operation of the civilized world with the democratic opposition forces who have been campaigning relentlessly for democracy in Iran. The National Council of Resistance of Iran’s platform envisages a secular, democratic Iran free of nuclear arms and equal opportunity for all citizens and co-operative and peaceful co-existence with Iran’s neighbours and the wider family of civilized nations. This platform is already enjoying the support of more than 4000 members of parliaments including majorities in over 30 democratic countries and is definitely worthy of support by all democratic Iranians as well as any government seriously interested in a modern Iran void of terrorism and barbaric violation of human rights and nuclear arms.

    Should it be proven that the Iranian terrorist regime is not far from acquiring the bomb before being toppled, the only alternative to avoid the nightmare of a tyrannical terrorist regime becoming nuclear armed would be to first alert the Iranian people to evacuate the areas around targets to be destroyed and then to bombardment all of the nuclear arms centres and military barracks belonging to the terrorist Pasdaran as well as the headquarters of the regime’s terrorist leaders.

  7. @Dave Schuler:

    Yea I think there’s an important distinction between the two.

    A pre-emptive attack designed to stop something that is clearly in motion is akin to self-defense.

    Preventive war is basically saying “we think this might be a threat some day so, instead of taking the risk, we’re just going to kill people and break things.”

  8. Rob in CT says:

    @MM:

    I’m not talking about the military wargaming. Not at all. I’m sure the Pentagon games out all sorts of scenarios, and they should.

    I’m talking about pundits regularly (blithely) discussing invading Iran, as if it’s perfectly acceptable to calmly discuss hauling off and invading another country because, ya know, they might get a weapon.

    a group of former U.S. officials and experts on Israel and Iran

    Apparently did this wargaming and then one of them did a write-up.

    If this was a military thing, I missed it. Also, my issue is with the discourse.

  9. Rob in CT says:

    Hmm. My last post isn’t well written.

    Shorter me: wargaming by the military is fine. I don’t object to that. In fact, I support it because it seems smart to try and understand the potential pitfalls of any given war scenario. That’s the DOD’s job.

    I’m commenting on what I see as a diseased state of discourse in the wider US foreign policy community.

  10. G.A.Phillips says:

    Iran sucks!!!

    And so does Obama for not helping its people when he had the chance.

  11. Rob in CT says:

    Hilarious, given that the Green Movement went out of its way to repeatedly indicate that it did not want our “help.” For rather obvious reasons, I might add.

  12. Rob in CT says:

    And seriously, GA, don’t even bother pretending you give a flying f*ck about Iran’s people.

  13. G.A.Phillips says:

    And seriously, GA, don’t even bother pretending you give a flying f*ck about Iran’s people.

    I was begging Obama to do something…I also care about all people, even unborn babies, even you.

    Hilarious, given that the Green Movement went out of its way to repeatedly indicate that it did not want our “help.” For rather obvious reasons, I might add.

    That’s not how I remember it, but then, I listen and observe….While other like to repeat lib talking points as their gospel, like fanatical religious extremists…..

  14. G.A.Phillips says:

    And censor vote everyone that has a brain around here like a pack of little girls screaming witch and fainting…

  15. ponce says:

    I used to think GA was just James or Doug having some fun posing as a clueless wingnut.

    Now I’m starting to think GA is an actual person who believes the crap he posts.

  16. Neil Hudelson says:

    GA,

    Please share with us. What/whom were you listening to that told you the majority of the green movement wanted U.S. involvement?

    I’m sure there were small minorities, as in every movement there are factions, but please provide us with examples that showed the leaders and majority fo the movement want us to get involved.

    I wait with bated breath.

  17. Ron Beasley says:

    I think that the fact that Israel is even thinking about an attack on Iran is a death wish. Any attack will result in significant disruption of ME oil resulting in a collapse of the world economy Israel instead of Iran will find itself the world’s public enemy number 1 – that will include a majority of the US population. There will be little if any appetite to come to Israel’s defense and few countries will have the resources to do so anyway because of the financial collapse.

  18. G.A.Phillips says:

    Israel instead of Iran will find itself the world’s public enemy number 1

    Um, I thought Israel already was?

    I’m sure there were small minorities, as in every movement there are factions, but please provide us with examples that showed the leaders and majority of the movement want us to get involved.

    Nice try:)

    I used to think GA was just James or Doug having some fun posing as a clueless wingnut.

    I used to think that ponce was my cat running around my other puter’s keyboard while it was left on, on the OTB web page…

    And if you say wingnut one more time….I’m not gonna clean your litter box for a month!!!!

  19. ponce says:

    Perhaps calling you a wingnut is too broad, GA.

    Clearly, you are a member of the Cain/Perry Republican school of debate.

  20. Neil Hudelson says:

    Nice try:)

    Nice try…on trying to have you actually prove something you claim?

    Man, you saw right through me.

  21. matt says:

    Yeah the green movement wanted our help just like the Iranians wanted our help instating the shah…

  22. G.A.Phillips says:

    Perhaps calling you a wingnut is too broad, GA.

    Clearly, you are a member of the Cain/Perry Republican school of debate.

    🙂 Why you have been getting likes from me. I have been seeing an honest sense of humor and some freaking understanding of reality….ponce you know I suck at spelling and grammar but you also know that my crap is pretty damn good for me being a literary idiot..I think I have shown improvement…but I am still lazy and emotional and hit post to quick because I am still mighty hyper…I have no doubt you have seen me blast people for being grammar Nazis but you have never seen me blast people for constructive criticism.

    See…should I look up and get a more defined definition of literary Idiot or just roll with it hoping you while understand lol…

    Nice try…on trying to have you actually prove something you claim?

    Man, you saw right through me.

    Kind of, I would usually mostly play along with you to be funny or stupid, but I am in crush, kill, destroy mode and will not debate by your rules or presuppositions, and I was giving you a break because of my fondness for you:)

  23. G.A.Phillips says:

    Yeah the green movement wanted our help just like the Iranians wanted our help instating the shah…

    You guys can keep making excuses for Obama doing nothing…. against crazy unstable ready to fall enemy NO.1. I am used to it and so is crazy unstable ready to fall enemy NO.1 .

  24. Neil Hudelson says:

    GA,

    You know when you make a claim then refuse to back up that claim with evidence, people pretty much think you are a liar or an idiot, right? I actually believe you are neither, so how about you actually provide some evidence for a claim?

    Trust me, no one fears your “crush, kill, destroy’ powers, as they’ve been demonstrated to be nonexistent at best.

  25. An Interested Party says:

    I actually believe you are neither…

    My my, you’re quite charitable…