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War Games in Washington

4:29 PM, Mar 20, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
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The New York Times reports that "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 motivation for such a "classified" report to have been so quickly leaked to the press appears abundantly obvious: Some folks informed of the simulation exercise want the Israelis not to strike Iran's nuclear facilities.

And lo and behold, the war game "reinforced" the very views of those who spoke with the Times. "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." (Of course, those who might have interpreted the results to mean something else would not likely be the ones leaking the information in the first place.)

Hmm. The timing of the Times article is curious. After all, consider this report yesterday from the Associated Press. "Israel views the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran with greater urgency than the rest of the world, Israel's defense minister said Monday," said the AP. "Ehud Barak also reiterated recent Israeli assessments that Iran's nuclear program is on the verge of becoming immune to disruptions by a possible military strike."

Barak also said that Israel must decide how it's going to handle Iran. "The world, including the current U.S. administration, understands and accepts that Israel necessarily views the threat differently than they do, and that ultimately, Israel is responsible for taking the decisions related to its future, its security and its destiny," said Barak, according to the AP. 

So on the one hand, folks within the U.S. government are taking out Iran's nuclear capabilities isn't a good idea, just as the Israelis are signaling that it might need to be done sooner rather than later. (It wouldn't be the first time intelligence officials politicized their findings.)

As Jeff Goldberg writes in his column today, "The Israeli political leadership increasingly believes that an attack on Iran will not be the disaster many American officials, and some ex-Israeli security officials, fear it will be."

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