Colleagues: Two articles today dealing with the controversial issue of how to deal with the Iranian nuclear program, both expressing caution. The first reports on the result of a war game conducted by the Pentagon which graphically concluded that an attack on Iran by Israel would likely draw the U.S. in, would not stop the Iranian program, would lead to economic downturn, and would involve many casualties. The second is a strong piece by retired Marine General Joe Hoar asking why professional military advice on this issue is not being heeded. Ty
NYT, March 19, 2012
U.S. War Game Sees Perils of Israeli Strike Against Iran
By MARK MAZZETTI and THOM SHANKER
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 American officials.
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 conflict.
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 retaliation.
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, real-world situation.
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.
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 prices.
“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.”
Posted: Philly.Com, Tue, Mar. 20, 2012, 3:00 AM
Heeding the experts on Iran
By GEN Joseph Hoar (USMC-Ret)
It’s become a cliche of presidential debates: Facing any question about Afghanistan or other national security issues, the candidates declare that they would heed the advice of their “commanders in the field.” It is striking, then, how willing they are to dismiss outright the opinions of America’s national security professionals when it comes to Iran.
At a recent conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Republican candidates played a game of rhetorical one-upmanship in expressing their willingness to take America to war in Iran. By contrast, virtually all of America’s most experienced national security leaders have advised caution.
While our best intelligence shows that Iran is developing the capacity to make nuclear weapons, military professionals report that it has not decided to actually do so. They warn that an attack will at best delay Iran’s nuclear program, and at worst will encourage it to acquire nuclear weapons to deter further attacks.
The candidates’ willingness to ignore the Pentagon’s strategic advice is surprising. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently said that while intelligence shows Iran is “developing a nuclear capability,” it also “makes clear that they haven’t made the decision to develop a nuclear weapon.” But Christian Whiton, a senior adviser to Newt Gingrich, accused Panetta of not “telling the truth” about Iran’s nuclear program.
Yet Panetta’s views are echoed by his immediate predecessor, Robert Gates, who cautioned that simplistic talk of military strikes is counterproductive: “This is, I think, one of the toughest foreign-policy problems I have ever seen since entering the government 45 years ago, and I think to talk about it loosely or as though these are easy choices … is irresponsible.”
In congressional testimony in January, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence and a retired lieutenant general, said that while U.S. officials believe Iran is preserving its options, there is no evidence that it’s making a concerted push to build a nuclear weapon. Former Gen. David Petraeus, the CIA director, concurred.
But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) proved as willing as the presidential aspirants to contradict the security professionals. He told Clapper in a subsequent hearing, “I’m very convinced that they’re going down the road of developing a nuclear weapon.” Is Graham ignoring the best intelligence of the U.S. government?
Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said recently that because the Iranian regime is a “rational actor,” the current U.S. approach “is the most prudent.” But Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum all dismissed his view.
The current policy of careful diplomacy and steady expansion of international sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program has its roots in the Bush administration and in long-term assessments of the best way forward. Gen. Michael Hayden, who was CIA director under George W. Bush, summarized the view of that administration’s intelligence team by saying “the consensus was that would guarantee that which we are trying to prevent: an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon and that would build it in secret.”
We can agree that the Iranian nuclear program represents a major challenge. But overheated rhetoric and glib threats of military action aren’t likely to help us address it. Before we launch another major Middle Eastern war, we’d better listen to the advice of our commanders and intelligence professionals.
Gen. Joseph P. Hoar is a former commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for military operations in the Middle East.