Sheera Frenkel has published a story in the Times of London (article accessible only to subscribers) about a simulation conducted by the Institute for National Security Studies, a Tel Aviv University affiliated think tank with close ties to Israeli military and intelligence elements. Among those who participated were a variety of figures from Israeli diplomatic, intelligence and political echelons including Giora Eiland, Bibi Netanyahu’s former National Security advisor and Alon Liel, former Director General of the Foreign Ministry during Ehud Barak’s prime ministership. Though I’m not clear on the political affiliations of all the players, it appears they made an attempt to include a cross-section of views from hawkish to pragmatic/liberal.
One of the key takeaways of Frenkel’s article is this:
Israeli officials have begun preparing scenarios for the day after a nuclear weapons test. The move is a tacit recognition that Israel is backing away from its long-held position that it would do everything in its power — including mounting a military strike — to stop Iran acquiring nuclear capabilities.
…The scenario laid out by the INSS suggests that the possibility that Israel has to “live with it” might become a reality.
This thinking is very much in synch with the campaign of Meir Dagan to prevent Israel from attacking Iran in order to sabotage its nuclear program. The former Shin Bet chief clearly wants his country to prepare to devise ways to contain any threat an Iranian nuclear weapon might post to Israel, short of military strike.
Though I find the results interesting, I think I’d challenge some of the key underlying assumptions. The first one being that Iran tests a nuclear device in January 2013:
…A series of regional and international developments is likely to cause Iran to decide to accelerate its nuclear development and to break through toward nuclear weapons…
I think it far more likely that Iran will do computer simulations of such tests rather than carrying out a physical test. The only nations which conduct actual tests are ones who desperately need to send a message to their adversaries and feel little concern for the repercussions of doing so. Iran may wish to send such a message, but I don’t believe it’s interested in risking the result. So I believe that it will deliberately pursue the sort of nuclear opacity Israel observes. It will conduct nuclear research that could enable it to build a weapon if it needed to do so. But it will not actually do so. This is the model that Japan has observed.
But if we’re willing to accept the assumptions of the simulation, the outcomes are interesting to consider (and also worth disputing in part). In order to restrain Israel from retaliating, the U.S. would propose a formal defense pact and bring Israel into NATO. As a result, Turkey would withdraw from that organization. Russia would propose a defense pact in order to combat nuclear proliferation in the region.
This conclusion seems also odd to me. I believe that Russia might propose invigorating the NPT and pressuring all Middle East countries to join. It might also join the U.S. in proposing a Mideast nuclear free zone. But a defense pact? I just don’t see it. Why? What would Russia gain? Why would Russia fear an Iranian weapon, since it is helping Iran’s nuclear program?
Frenkel says that Saudi Arabia would go it alone and develop its own nuclear program. Again, I just don’t see that country having the expertise to do this though of course it would have the finances to support one. In other aspects of the simulation, Egypt proposes military action against Iran and Turkey would “avoid a showdown.” Given that country’s hostility toward Israel and reasonably friendly relations toward Iran, this is an understatement. I think it’s far more likely that Turkey would actively join any serious effort both to strengthen the NPT in the region and/or create a nuclear free zone.
This conclusion regarding Iranian goals in gaining a nuclear weapon does seem reasonable to me:
“The simulation showed that Iran will not forgo nuclear weapons, but will attempt to use them to reach an agreement with the major powers that will improve its position.”
Though this subject isn’t mentioned, it seems clear to me that if anything Iran would seek to pressure the world community to recognize it as a full player, which would include ending sanctions and full diplomatic recognition.
This article appeared at Tikun Olam