The New York Times gave a full page to an interesting exercise on Sunday. In the Week in Review, with colorful graphics, it printed a summary of a simulation by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution exploring “The ‘What If’ of an Israeli Strike” against Iran’s suspected nuclear installations.
It’s not a new question; many people have been wondering just that. But the publication of the summary – at the very moment that U.S.-Israeli relations are somewhat frayed – seemed designed to forestall such an operation.
David E. Sanger, the Times’ chief Washington correspondent, noted in an introduction that “[i]n 1981, Israel destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak….” That actually turned out to be fortuitous, although Sanger did not say so, keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the Persian Gulf War.
“In 2007,” Sanger continued, Israel “wiped out a North Korean-built reactor in Syria. And the next year, the Israelis secretly asked the Bush administration for the equipment and overflight rights they might need some day to strike Iran’s much better-hidden, better-defended nuclear sights.
“They were turned down,” he noted, “but the request added urgency to the question: Would Israel take the risk of a strike? And if so, what would follow?”
Here we summarize the summary: One not unexpected effect would be the worsening of U.S.-Israel relations. Then the United States would go into cleanup mode, calling for restraint while deploying weapons of its own “as a warning to Iran not to retaliate.”
But – again, according to the summary – Iran strikes back, causing “minimal damage,” and Hezbollah and Hamas get into the act. Israel, feeling it has done what’s needed, “barely responds.”
Iran uses all of this as an opportunity to unite its people “and to roll over its opposition parties,” while continuing “low-level attacks on Israel and portraying the United States as a paper tigerâ€¦.”
And so it goes, until “[t]he game ends eight days after the initial Israeli strike. But it is clear the United States was leaning toward destroying â€¦ [Iranian] targets â€¦ and that Iran’s forces were about to suffer a significant defeat. Debate breaks out over â€¦ whether the country had secret backup facilities that could be running in just a year or two.”
So who wins? Israel, perhaps, for a while. And then what?
For more about the simulation, go to www.brookings.edu/SABAN.ASPX.