Listen up, people, because you probably won’t hear or read about this anywhere else. Dore Gold the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (where I intern), just returned to Israel from a weekend simulation game about Iran at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Word on the street (and by street I mean the JCPA publication department) is that the event was supposed to be kept secret, but that it eventually leaked. Before I get into the players and whatnot, I’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats about the results, so here’s the summary from Arutz Sheva:
A simulation conducted at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government over the weekend predicts that the United States will fail in its efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and will, for lack of other options, attempt to convince Iran not to use those weapons. The simulation further predicts that a serious crisis will break out between Israel and the U.S., as Washington pressures Jerusalem not to take any defensive action against Iran’s weapon, while Israel insists on its right to self defense.
Don’t duck and cover yet, folks, it was just an exercise. But as the Washington Post’s David Ignatius explains, “it revealed some important real-life dynamics — and the inability of any diplomatic strategy, so far, to stop the Iranian nuclear push.”
The simulation was organized by Graham Allison, a political scientist, professor, and head of the Belfer Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. His area of expertise is bureaucratic decision making in times of crisis, and he achieved international renown in the world of academia for his analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis and application of decision making models in the late 1960s and 1970s. I myself trudged through his “Conceptual Models and the Cuban Missile Crisis” last year in my U.S. Foreign Policy class.
Nicholas Burns, a former undersecretary of state, played President Obama; Dore Gold (Israel’s former ambassador to the UN) played Prime Minister Netanyahu; and Columbia University professor Gary Sick, who has served in the National Security Council under numerous administrations, led the Iranian team.
The strategies were as follows:
Obama’s America wants to avoid war, which means restraining Israel; Iran wants to continue its nuclear program, even as it dickers over a deal to enrich uranium outside its borders, such as the one floated in Geneva in October; Israel doesn’t trust America to stop Iran and is looking for help from the Gulf Arab countries and Europe.
American strategy snagged when it came to economic sanctions, because “congressional demands for unilateral U.S. sanctions against companies involved in Iran’s energy sector…ended up backfiring, since some of the key companies were from Russia and China — the very nations whose support the United States needs for strong U.N. sanctions. The Russians and Chinese were so offended that they began negotiating with Tehran behind America’s back.”
I feel that a lot of people who don’t think Iran will achieve nuclear capabilities argue that it doesn’t have the necessary economic resources to do so. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that China has a huge energy deal with Iran. That, combined with Russia’s oil connection, would definitely be a bone of contention. It would be enough to ruin a strategic partnership between the U.S. and Russia and China in terms of Iran. Energy is huge for China and Russia, so if the U.S. would ever try to undermine that sector, there is no doubt in my mind that they would play the political game and start negotiating with Iran. China has people to feed, and Russia is still trying to shed its Cold War history so it can compete on a level playing field with the U.S.
This is how Iran ended up “winning” and the U.S. “lost”:
The U.S. team — unable to stop the Iranian nuclear program and unwilling to go to war — concluded the game by embracing a strategy of containment and deterrence. The Iranian team wound up with Russia and China as its diplomatic protectors.
While the U.S. pursues a relatively diplomatic route, which ultimately ends with a “December 2010 hypothetical endpoint” at which Iran has “doubled its supply of low-enriched uranium” and is “pushing ahead with weaponization,” Israel and the U.S. are having an all-out brawl in which the “Israeli team ended in a sharp break with Washington.”
According to Ignatius, the biggest problem for “Obama” was his relationship with “Netanyahu,” but I could have predicted that:
…they had two sharp exchanges in which America asked for assurances that Israel wouldn’t attack Iran without U.S. permission. The Israeli prime minister…refused to make that pledge, insisting that Israel alone must decide how to protect its security. Whereupon Burns’s president warned that if Israel did strike, contrary to U.S. interests, Washington might publicly denounce the attack — producing an open break as in the 1956 Suez crisis.
It’s understandable that the U.S. doesn’t want another Suez (Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, a move that threatened Israeli shipping; Israel invaded; and the U.S. got angry), and an Israeli strike on Iran without permission from the U.S. would indeed create an “open break.” Netanyahu echoes Ben Gurion’s headstrong personality (minus the charisma), and Netanyahu has shown that he will not allow the U.S. to dictate how and when Israel should protect itself.
The difference, as evidenced in both Burns’ and Dore’s comments, comes down to prevention versus containment:
“The most difficult problem we have is how to restrain Israel,” said Burns. “My own view is that we need to play for a long-term solution, avoid a third war in the Greater Middle East and wear down the Iranians over time.”Gold said the game clarified for him a worrying difference of opinion between U.S. and Israeli leaders: “The U.S. is moving away from preventing a nuclear Iran to containing a nuclear Iran — with deterrence based on the Cold War experience. That became clear in the simulation. Israel, in contrast, still believes a nuclear Iran must be prevented.”
Basically, the simulation showed that “diplomacy will become much harder next year.” Burns says “‘the U.S. may have to restrain Israel,’” like it’s something the U.S. has been thinking about for a while and that it’s willing to do. Of course, the U.S. has significant leverage on Israel in terms of arms deals, aid, etc., but whether or not Netanyahu will heed that leverage remains to be determined. Israel is certainly capable of attacking Iran without help from the U.S., and it certainly has a much better economy than it did in 1956 when Israel was being flooded with Jews from Arab countries. The question is whether or not Israel values its relationship with the U.S. a) more than they value prevention and/or b) less than the U.S. thinks Israel values it. Things are going to get messy, and I’m excited (in a weird way) to see what happens. Hope I didn’t scare anyone too much.