Why listen to talking heads babble about bombing Iran when you can bomb it yourself? Or at least you can by playing a board game, as I did when I played Persian Incursion, in which you play out a hypothetical Israeli air offensive to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons program. With the International Atomic Energy Agency claiming that Iran has continued its atomic weapons research, and Israel practically putting up billboards that say “we’re gonna bomb them before they bomb us,” this game may become reality.
For a description of how Persian Incursion works, see my piece at ForeignPolicy.com. And let me add a couple of caveats. First, yes, someone actually designed a board game on Israel bombing Iran. Second, a wargame on a war that hasn’t yet happened will be riddled with assumptions that may or may not be right. But the co-designer of Persian Incursion is technothriller writer Larry Bond, who has co-authored books with Tom Clancy (Clancy apparently used one of Bond’s naval wargames to write The Hunt for Red October). Whether you like technothrillers or not, Bond is no slouch when it comes to projecting the shape of modern warfare, and he did a stunning amount of research for Persian Incursion.
So with that in mind, here are six lessons that I learned from Persian Incursion:
1. Bombing Iran is complicated. There’s a lot of prep work that needs to done. Persian Incursion assumes that an Israeli air campaign is only feasible if one of Iran’s neighbors — Saudi Arabia, Turkey or Iraq — overtly or covertly agrees to Israeli passage through its airspace.
2. Iran can’t do jack about being bombed. The Persians in Persian Incursion have a snowball’s chance in hell of militarily stopping the Israeli onslaught. The Iranian player has to roll dice every turn just to see if his maintenance-starved air force can even get off the ground, while Israeli jammers and decoys keep things hopping for Iranian radars and anti-aircraft missiles. But Iran doesn’t have to shoot down every plane to win. Parading a dozen captured Israeli pilots before the cameras would be a political victory.
3. Israel can’t do jack about Iranian retaliation. The Israeli Air Force is going to be too busy bombing nuclear sites to go after Iranian missiles. The game assumes that Israel’s Arrow anti-missiles will knock down some Iranian rockets (I’m not so sure, given the less-than-sterling record of ballistic missile defense). But regardless, some Iranian weapons will get through. Israel has military superiority, but not invulnerability.
4. Iran’s nuclear hydra has many heads. Persian Incursion’s target folder lists dozens of Iranian nuclear facilities (along with their exact dimensions and defenses — the game is a reference library in a box). Some of them are hardened against all but the biggest bunker-busters. I don’t know how many would have to be destroyed to ruin Iran’s nuclear program, but the Israelis will have spread their limited resources over many targets.
5. Israel can’t do it all in one shot. Unlike the 1981 raid on Iraq’s Osirak reactor, Israel can’t pull this off in a single raid. Persian Incursion assumes Israel will need to conduct a one-week air campaign. Besides the diplomatic ramifications of a sustained assault, combat losses and maintenance downtime means the Israeli effort will only weaken over time.
6. Planning an air offensive is hard work. I have a lot of respect for U.S. Air Force planners after seeing what the Israeli player has to go through in Persian Incursion. Juggling the right mix of ordnance versus fuel tanks, and then calculating the right mix of bunker-busters versus air-to-air and anti-radar defensive missiles, is a brain teaser....
The fact that the "international community" is adamantly opposed to trying this approach exposes its duplicity. If the "international community" were indeed sincere about nuclear non-proliferation it would make nuclear fuel available without conditions beyond those set out in existing treaties. And it would force non-signatories, like Israel, to comply.....
The fact that the "international community" is willing to play political games with nuclear fuel should be of utmost concern for us all because of the enormous stakes.
The perception of potential blackmail of nuclear fuel by the "international community" deserves as much discussion as any issue precisely because its provides non-nuclear states the impetus they need to contravene the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, just as the nuclear powers have been contravening it for years by refusing to eliminate nuclear weapons.
This emerging situation poses an existential threat to humanity. Yet it is simply not being discussed publicly.....
As we move past the Thanksgiving holiday into December, and as the Republican primaries lurch ever closer, we can be assured that the reverbations from the recent IAEA report about Iran's nuclear program will continue. While some of this will be part of the posturing by candidates either in the Republican presidential primaries or in the lead up to the House and Senate campaigns in 2012, some of it will be the result of the US's responses to the report and the challenge that Iran presents, as well as how other major international and regional actors respond. As the US attempts to ratchet up the economic pressure through new sanctions, Russia, a major trading partner of Iran, as well as a major player in Iran's nuclear development program, has indicated that it opposes them. It is, perhaps, an appropriate time to step back and reflect on the actual strategic challenge that Iran's nuclear program presents to the US.
There are two key questions we have to ask in regard to any potential response towards Iran's nuclear development program: 1) will US action towards Iran actually prevent them from pursuing and/or acquiring a nuclear weapons capability? and 2) will US action towards Iran to prevent them from pursuing and/or acquiring a nuclear weapons capability change the Iranian government's behavior in the manner that we want? Looking at possible options we can reasonably rule out further and/or increased sanctions. To be blunt they have not worked. While they initially inflicted some pain on Iran that gave way long ago and Iran has managed to survive and grow despite them. While I am sure I am about to give a whole lot of people serious agita, now might be a good time to consider what might happen if we actually tried doing something else like pursuing a serious diplomatic initiative. Since trying to lock down and close off Iran has not actually worked, perhaps opening up trade and travel to Iran just might. While there is certainly no guarantee of success, continuing to do what we are doing is, to paraphrase Professor Einstein, crazy. I can not help but think that the ability of diasporan Iranians to travel home, for Iranians to travel to other places including the US with less hassle and difficulty, for scientific, professional, and business exchanges to occur can not but have a positive effect. At some point we can not keep pointing to the stick and saying it is a carrot...